Services for people affected by violent crime need to be equal in quality and provision to what is provided to perpetrators of violent crimes.
One casualty of the IRA Brighton Bombing (1984) was the wife of Lord Tebbit whose substantial claim was awarded with incredible speed, under the old scheme. She suffered horrific and degenerative injuries. However, a few years on, the same government Lord Tebbit was in broad agreement with, rushed through the 1995 Act. What would the award be today, and the time taken to complete the application, if Lady Tebbit was not a prominent politician's wife? In January 2012, the Rt Hon Ken Clarke, Justice Minister, announced the long anticipated cuts in criminal compensation under the scheme designed to save government between £35m and £45m a year out of the annual £200m budget. This includes cutting compensation to those affected by brain injury and other profound disabilities.
When the Labour Party was in Opposition, it was committed to the Repeal of the controversial and punitive, cost-cutting 1995 Criminal Injuries Compensation Act. The former Labour government never attempted to honour this commitment and in fact made securing compensation even harder and costly for people. The current coalition government has gone even further in reducing liberty and state support and shown its total contempt for crime victims and genuine social justice without any hesitation. The daily impact on the lives those affected by violent crime cannot be understated! The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) is the government body with duty for implementing government policy and operational duty and is an executive agency, accountable directly to Parliament that has a clear mandate to save awards, or money, as much as possible. The Act made compensation lawful the 1990s conservative government administration of John Major with the aim to substantially reduce State responsibility and value of awards provided.
From what little data the CICA volunteered at the time of my first edition, over 60% of people applying for assessment for criminal compensation are obliged to secure expert solicitors simply to deal with the CICA. This is not justice, but a reflection of the agency's aggressive, inflexible, shambolic bureaucratic processes and obstacles. It is essential if someone affected by violent crime is to secure an award within the rigid rules that expert legal help is secured early on.
In our internet-driven world, it is this author's suggestion, to never complete the CICA’s on-line application form, no matter how tempting this seems! Once submitted, a claim can never be amended or retracted and it is essential you secure quality, expert assistance in the completion of this life-changing, distressing, bureaucratic experience. It is crucial to get expert help before submitting an application. A function of the CICA is to recognize the consequences of criminal injury to individual lives, and too often treats applicants contemptuously as if they were criminals. What the existence of the CICA does provide is further evidence of the dismantling of State support for its citizens.
The CICA's work involves deciding whether applications for criminal compensation are eligible within their rules as laid-out in the Act, and, if the application is successful, how much will be paid and how it will be paid. A tariff-based scoring system is rigidly applied and decisions made after sometimes years, often, only to be substantially increased on Appeal. This rigid process fails to evidence efficiency, justice or reflect crime victim’s needs and return to common compensation criteria is necessary. What is financial value you place on the ability to live your life?.
The CICA holds enormous power over traumatized crime victims and their dependents and their future potential quality of rehabilitation and health. The process often takes many years and cost thousands of pounds from the award in legal fees, that the applicant must secure. The CICA is regarded as a very insular, inefficient service. Many believe the CICA scheme lacks satisfactory regulation and parliamentary scrutiny. It is perceived by those dealing with the CICA, as a slow and dysfunctional administrative service that fails to function with the effectiveness or accountability of an average social security office. By its existing remit it detracts from the dignity of crime victims. If such an appalling system must be used against the vulnerable public society would be better served if the whole process was dealt with by an ordinary high street insurance company.
“We know that democracy does not mean the coercion of all into a deadly and, finally, wicked mediocrity but the liberty for all to aspire to the best that is in him, or that has ever been.”
Extract: James Baldwin in Angela Davis “If They Come For Me In The Morning”
The crime victim is central throughout the criminal justice system and yet is the least provided for in any practical and meaningful manner. Billions of pounds are spent on perpetrators of heinous crimes, prisons, rehabilitation, health and social care, free legal representation, court costs, re-housing, anonymity. If criminals are to return to society to lead lawful, non-dangerous lives this is a proper use of taxpayer's money. However, the crime victim appears to be trivialized and patronized in the policy and practice of delivering justice in the recognition of compensating rehabilitation. Nothing less than the full Repeal of the punitive Act will suffice in a future government’s priority for provision of crime victims. It should form a major drive and commitment of any political party’s policy and pre-election campaign. A marker for any civilized society is how it treats the most vulnerable and needy citizens and it would appear in Britain we fall far short.
Although recent government reductions are now being implemented much of the eligibility criteria and guidelines remain the same as outlined in my last edition. My handbook outlines existing conditions for applying for compensation, eligibility rules, the legislation, assessment, reviews and appeals processes and how to reduce the delays by correlating the necessary documentation. It includes suggestions for reducing emotional anxiety and the distress that comes from dealing with the CICA. A new edition with the new rules will follow.