Victims’ Commissioner calls for wholesale reform of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme so that victims who apply are not frustrated or alienated by the process.
In her new review, Baroness Newlove, Victims’ Commissioner (VC) for England & Wales notes that many victims claiming criminal injuries compensation find the process so stressful that it can retrigger their original trauma. This is a result of being required to constantly repeat their story, as well as delays, uncertainty and poor communication.
Nearly 40pc of victims feel the need to turn to a third party in order to pursue their claim, with many victims in this review citing the distress caused by the process or the sheer complexity of the application process as a reason for this. Those who use lawyers can lose up to a quarter of their award in legal fees.
Support available for victims in making a claim, through locally commissioned victim support services, is patchy and in some areas, non-existent.
Criminal injuries compensation is a vital part of the support package available to victims of sexual and violent crime. A compensation award aims to provide some catharsis to victims when society recognises the terrible wrong inflicted upon them. It also provides financial help in dealing with the many practical difficulties they face.
Baroness Newlove said:
“I believe criminal injuries compensation is important in helping vulnerable victims cope and recover from the most brutal of crimes. Yet my Review shows that the process of making their claim, which should strengthen victims, can have the opposite effect. The process of claiming is often having a detrimental impact on their wellbeing. I worry that we are treating it as a tick box exercise, without recognising the emotional needs of those making claims.
The review engaged more than 200 victims, Police and Crime Commissioners, victim support services, criminal justice agencies and lawyers. Its purpose is to review the accessibility of the Scheme from a victim perspective.
The review flags up low awareness of the Scheme and how it operates, even amongst criminal justice practitioners. Only just over a third of victims taking part in the review survey reported they were informed of their entitlement to claim compensation by police (36pc). Some victims were being encouraged to delay claiming until after trial, only to find that they were timed outside the two-year window for submitting their claim.
The review also acknowledges that over the past 18 months the CICA has invested a significant amount of work improving their processes, with most cases now taking less than 12 months to process. Whilst the Commissioner welcomes these improvements, she believes more fundamental changes are needed.
Baroness Newlove said:
“I am calling on not only the CICA, but the Ministry of Justice, victim service providers, Police and Crime Commissioners, police and prosecutors to work together to deliver a package of wide-ranging reforms to the processes for delivering compensation. The changes I want to see need to de-traumatise and simplify the criminal injuries compensation process.
The review presses for numerous changes to simplify and de-traumatise the process of pursuing a claim, such as having a single point of contact or named caseworker to handle their claim and answer questions, and accelerating IT improvements enabling victims to track claims online. There need to be improved pathways for sharing information, particularly between the police and the CICA. Victims need to be offered timelines for their claim and when they send in vital documents, the CICA should acknowledge receipt.
Support available through local victim services for making an application for compensation was patchy, and in some parts of the country, victim support services don’t provide any support to victims who wish to make a claim. Following a recent High Court judgment, support that was previously available is now being withdrawn.
The VC said:
“I am calling for professional support to be targeted on vulnerable victims who cannot reasonably be expected to submit a claim without help. At present, these victims feel pushed into hiring lawyers and lose up to 25pc of their award in legal fees.
The review also flags up other concerns with the Scheme; it calls for victims not to feel pressurised into submitting a claim before trial. The VC said:
“I was particularly concerned to hear that some victims of sexual crimes were being cross-examined by defence barristers on whether they had made an application for compensation and questioned whether greed had motivated their complaints.”
The Review calls on the Ministry of Justice to examine other aspects of the scheme, including the CICA’s handling of cases where compensation is held in trust and reductions in compensation awards to bereaved families due to the “conduct” of the deceased victim. It also challenges the exclusion of victims with unspent convictions, in light of better understanding how certain crimes, such as modern-day slavery, or sexual/criminal exploitation of children, can push some victims into criminality.
Baroness Newlove said: “I want to see a criminal injuries compensation scheme that supports victims in coping and recovering from their crimes, supports the most vulnerable victims in making their claims and is accepted as an integral part of the support package for victims. We must not lose sight that victims are likely to be suffering from trauma. It is important that this service, which is there to support them, recognises this and treats them with the empathy and care they deserve.”