I was interested to read Baroness Newlove’s comments following her review of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA).
Baroness Newlove has found that the CICA are “re-traumatising” crime victims and that the body seemed to be calculated to frustrate and alienate those it should be helping.
I specialise in acting for abuse victims and a large volume of my work relates to CICA claims. Last week I was with an abuse victim in London at an Appeal Hearing where we secured over £1 million following childhood abuse at the hands of a minister (this was being dealt with under the old Scheme which did not have a financial cap). I also appeared before the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse with Baroness Newlove to assist in their consideration of the present CICA Scheme.
I would have to accept Baroness Newlove’s findings such that there are anomalies in the Scheme that can cause enormous problems for abuse victims.
I was delighted to see the successful challenge to the “same roof” rule in 2018. For many years victims of childhood abuse had been prejudiced by this rule if they had been abused by family members before 1979. There was simply no justification for this rule which meant that if you were abused by your father pre 1979 you were not entitled to compensation whereas if the abuse occurred after 1979 you would be fully compensated.
There are still many other problems which need to be addressed as Baroness Newlove has highlighted.
One of my big concerns is that abuse victims often go on to become involved in crime themselves. This is often through no fault of their own, yet a criminal record may disqualify them from any award. Abuse victims often develop serious psychiatric problems and become reliant on alcohol or drugs as an inappropriate coping mechanism. To fund their drug habit they may become involved in crime. This is often repetitive minor level crime such as shoplifting but nevertheless if it results in an eventual custodial sentence it would disqualify the Applicant from receiving compensation.
This appears wholly unreasonable where the crime has only arisen as a result of a need to fulfil an addiction arising from the abuse.
One of the difficulties with historic abuse claims is that they generally are brought outside the CICA’s time limits. It often takes years or even decades for an Applicant to come to terms with the abuse and to be strong enough to report it. The CICA expect any claim to be submitted by the age of 20 or within two years of a report to the police. We are therefore immediately left with a hurdle to overcome in that we need to persuade the CICA that there are good reasons why the claim has not been brought sooner and that it can still be investigated despite the time that has elapsed. This can be difficult where records are no longer available. I think that the time limits in relation to abuse victims should be scrutinised and in particular the requirement to claim within two years of a report to police should be removed.
The difficulty many victims face is that a criminal trial can take longer than two years from the date of the initial report. This is particularly true of historic abuse claims where the investigations are complex. If Client A therefore reports the matter to the police today under the present Scheme he has until January 2021 to submit a CICA claim.
Client A will often not wish to submit a claim at this stage. He immediately gives the Defence in the criminal proceedings a line of questioning which would suggest that he is only reporting the matter to the police for financial gain by way of a CICA claim. I have come across cases where the police have actually discouraged an Applicant from bringing any claim within the two year period because of the prejudice it may cause to the criminal proceedings.
If it takes three years for the matter to come to Court, the Applicant will therefore fall outside the rules of the Scheme. The only reason he has delayed is to ensure a conviction of the assailant and it is wrong that he is prejudiced by this.
The other biggest problem with the CICA Scheme is delay. The case I mentioned at the start of this blog where we recovered over £1million for the Applicant began in 2009. I often deal with CICA claims that have been ongoing for three, four and five years. Every time I speak to a client it brings back memories of childhood abuse and if this is repeated over a three to five year period it does re-traumatise them. The problems are not just with the CICA. We often find the delays are on the part of the police. I have acted for various victims of grooming/gang abuse and find that these claims have often been delayed by failings on the part of the police in answering requests from the CICA.
I therefore fully endorse Baroness Newlove’s comments such that the Scheme needs to be revisited to ensure that all victims of abuse receive the damages to which they are entitled.
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