Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority award scheme to be changed

The Government has announced that the statutory scheme for payments to victims of crime  (under the “Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority”) is set for a shake-up in 2012.

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (“CICA”) was originally set up by then-incumbent Conservative government in 1995. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme is designed to compensate victims of violent crime who have suffered physical or psychological injuries. The most common type of offences that entail payouts from the scheme are violent and sexual assaults. Victims of violent crimes can gain remedies through both the CICA and the civil courts but there are good reasons to pursue such claims for personal injury through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme. Firstly, claims in the civil courts can be harrowing to the victims, especially when it comes to the trial. CICA claims circumvent this. Secondly, Defendants in such cases are often impecunious. They’re unlikely to have assets substantial enough to pay any award and they are generally not covered by insurance (unlike most other types of personal injury claim). The benefit for Claimants for pursuing a Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme claim is that the payouts are made by CICA. The Government is therefore effectively guaranteeing that the payments will be made (if the CICA officer recommends that payment should be made).

Victims of crime can be compensated for three areas of loss relating to personal injury: the injury itself, loss of earnings, and “special” losses (i.e. damage to property, medical expenses etc.). The amount of compensation for personal injury awarded depends upon which tariff “bracket” the Claimant falls into. The lowest awards are made for injuries that are only slightly more than “trivial”, such as broken noses or sprained ankles (although victims of crime would dispute these as trivial). There are 25 “brackets” (or bands) in total, ranging from £1,000 for a minor sprain or fracture to up to £250,000 for paralysis and serious brain injury. The maximum total award for a personal injury claim within the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (including loss of earnings and special losses) is capped at £500,000.

Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Minister, has stated that payouts for minor injuries will be scrapped, while payouts for a number of serious injuries will be reduced. This is effectively a restructuring of the tariff system mentioned above as well as an attempt to restrict eligibility for the scheme. Only those victims achieving a certain level of injury will be eligible and the tariff system is being shaken up so that the lowest five bands are being removed. The amount awarded for loss of earnings will also be capped at £12,600.

Mr Clarke has stated that the reasons for the changes being introduced is that the scheme is in financial difficulties, with a deficit of more than £250 million. He has further stated that the Government wishes to shift the burden of compensation from the taxpayer to offenders. This is an understandable aim but ignores the fact that a large number of offenders would not be able to cover the amount of compensation due, leaving Claimant’s undercompensated for their injuries.