The BBC today reported that more than 400 sex abuse victims have had their damages reduced under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme because they have later committed criminal offences.

Entitlement to damages from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority has gradually changed over the last two decades.

When I initially began practising in this area of work some 25 years ago we used to pursue claims through the CICB scheme. This was a much wider scheme and much fairer for victims. Damages were calculated on the same basis as damages would be in a civil action. Victims received their full loss of earnings and received an appropriate compensatory figure for what they had suffered in a criminal assault.

Since then the scheme has gradually been reduced and restricted. The CICB became the CICA and with it a tariff system was introduced restricting the pain and suffering awards to a set figure dependent upon the level of abuse. This sometimes makes it extremely difficult taking initial instructions from a client because you have to ask very specifically exactly what the abuse entailed.

The scheme also restricted the loss of earnings claim. This has been gradually eroded to the present position where loss of earnings claim is not based upon the earning capacity of the Applicant but on a minimal set figure. There is now also an upper cap on the extent of damages that can be recovered which was not present under the original scheme.

It is therefore not surprising to now read that victims are further suffering because the CICA are reducing or withholding damages as a result of subsequent criminal convictions. I submit many CICA applications for abuse victims and in the past have argued that it is only as a result of the abuse that the victims go on to commit criminal offences. Unfortunately you find that a high percentage of abuse victims end up with psychiatric injuries and substance abuse problems. There can be a reliance on alcohol or drugs and to feed that reliance you find the victims sometimes engage in criminal activity.

What the CICA fail to understand is that these Applicants have been the victims of horrendous crimes involving abuse during childhood and it is unfair that their subsequent compensation awards are reduced because of some minor misdemeanour in later life, often resulting from the effects of the abuse.

It seems that the CICA are generally becoming more and more reluctant to compensate the victims of abuse. Another present difficulty is their regular refusal to compensate victims where there has been a perceived failure to co-operate with the Police. This is a particular problem in grooming cases.

I act for many victims of grooming gangs who are often completely disillusioned having repeatedly reported the abuse they have suffered to the authorities without any action being taken. As a result, when action is finally taken against the perpetrators, the victims are often unwilling to co-operate due to their previous negative experiences with the Police. Incidents such as these and the perceived ‘failure to co-operate’ are then used by the CICA as an excuse not to compensate the victim. I am presently challenging a CICA decision on exactly this basis.

As a lawyer specialising in CICA claims for abuse victims I would entirely endorse the BBC article such that the CICA scheme should be revisited and amended to take account of the effects of abuse in childhood.

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