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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2008

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mrs. Janet Dean
Atkinson, Mr. Peter (Hexham) (Con)
Burrowes, Mr. David (Enfield, Southgate) (Con)
Cash, Mr. William (Stone) (Con)
Challen, Colin (Morley and Rothwell) (Lab)
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth) (Con)
Eagle, Maria (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice)
Gardiner, Barry (Brent, North) (Lab)
Grogan, Mr. John (Selby) (Lab)
Hall, Mr. Mike (Weaver Vale) (Lab)
Hendrick, Mr. Mark (Preston) (Lab/Co-op)
Holmes, Paul (Chesterfield) (LD)
Howarth, David (Cambridge) (LD)
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay (Chorley) (Lab)
Hurd, Mr. Nick (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con)
Khan, Mr. Sadiq (Tooting) (Lab)
Truswell, Mr. Paul (Pudsey) (Lab)
Mark Etherton, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

First Delegated Legislation Committee

Monday 14 July 2008

[Mrs. Janet Dean in the Chair]

Draft Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2008

4.30 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Maria Eagle): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2008.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs. Dean. I have not done so before, but I am sure that you will keep us is good order. I do not intend to incur the wrath of any Chairman, and I am sure that I speak for the whole Committee in that regard, so we will all bear that in mind.
The draft Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme was laid before the House on 18 June. Criminal injuries compensation is part of the Government’s wider commitment to put victims at the heart of the criminal justice system. We have transformed support for victims of crime, as they now have a legal right, for the first time ever, to a high quality of service from the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts. We have introduced 165 witness care units across England and Wales to support victims and help them attend court. In the courts, we have introduced special measures to ensure that vulnerable or intimidated victims can give their best evidence, such as measures to enable them to give evidence by video link or with the support of an intermediary.
The criminal injuries compensation scheme is another part of our strategy to support and protect victims of crime. It provides payment at public expense to innocent victims of violent crime in Great Britain. Compensation is based on a tariff or scale of awards of comparable severity. There are 25 tariff bands, ranging from £1,000 to £250,000. More seriously injured victims can get additional compensation for loss of earnings and special expenses, subject to an overall ceiling of £500,000 in respect of any one claim or death. Last year, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority paid out £235 million in compensation, and since the scheme’s inception in 1964—it has been a statutory scheme since 1996—it has paid out over £4 billion to more than 1 million victims of crime.
In December 2005, we consulted on whether to refocus the scheme on victims of the most serious crimes while improving the practical and emotional support available to victims. Many respondents to the consultation wanted the practical and emotional support that has been proposed, so we have taken that forward through Victim Support Plus. Victim Support contacts the witness within 48 hours of referral from the police, and it conducts a thorough needs assessment, identifying the individual support needed.
Respondents commented that those direct services should not be offered at the expense of awards for less serious injuries. We agreed, so we will not refocus the scheme as we had considered doing. With regard to concerns that support for more seriously injured individuals would be provided at the expense of the less seriously injured, we have funded Victim Support to roll out its model of practical and emotional help across the country.
Criminal injuries compensation does not exist in a vacuum. It is linked to the other support, protection and information that victims of crime receive from the criminal justice system. When we started the consultation “Rebuilding lives— supporting victims of crime” in 2005, we were at the beginning of a major period of reform, in which we introduced, for example, witness care units and the victims code of practice. We wanted the results of those reforms to be clear before we made any changes to the scheme. In particular, we were keen to see the results of Victim Support Plus. In the pilots, 88 per cent. of victims said that they felt that their needs had been completely met, and 92 per cent. judged the quality of service to be excellent or good. The success of those pilots influenced our decision to extend the initiative across the country, just as the consultation influenced our decision not to refocus the scheme on more serious crimes, but to look at making its administration more effective, efficient and victim-focused.
As a result, the main changes in the draft Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2008 relate to appeal provisions, which have become necessary as a consequence of the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007. The changes that we are inviting members of the Committee to approve today are mainly focused on changes brought about by the 2007 Act, and the basic structure and rules of the existing schemes will remain much as before.
Currently, the criminal injuries compensation scheme incorporates the functions of the authority and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Appeals Panel. The main reason for bringing these changes to the Committee is the passing of the 2007 Act, which created a two-tier tribunal structure, with a first-tier tribunal and an upper-tier tribunal. That will require CICAP, along with other Government tribunals, to be absorbed into the first-tier tribunal later this year. CICAP will therefore cease to exist as a separate body and cannot remain as part of the scheme. The appeals rules and procedures of the first-tier tribunal will be set out within the relevant tribunal procedure rules. That is the reason for making the changes now.
Opportunities to amend the scheme rarely arise, so we are taking advantage of this opportunity to make a number of other changes to the rules. The last fundamental change to the scheme was in 2001 and changes have become necessary with the passage of time and in the light of operational experience. Most are needed to clarify the meaning or intent of the scheme where there is doubt or ambiguity. Some restore the original intention of the scheme where court judgments or operational experience have suggested that the wording is not doing the job properly. Others will help to streamline the scheme’s processes. All the changes are clearly set out in the annexe to the explanatory memorandum, which was laid before Parliament with the draft scheme. The changes are all clearly shown as tracked changes.
We have made it clear in paragraph 8 not only that the injury must have been sustained in Great Britain, but that it must be directly attributable to an act occurring in Great Britain. That clarifies the original intention of the scheme, which was that both incidents and injuries must have taken place in Great Britain. The scheme was never intended to cover cases such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the USA. However, some relatives of those who were killed qualified because they witnessed the event on live television in Great Britain. It became apparent that there was an ambiguity about the extent to which the scheme extended to injury or mental disturbance caused by viewing such a terrible thing and knowing that one’s relatives were there. This alteration puts the meaning beyond doubt. Both the injury and the incident that gives rise to it must take place in Great Britain.
We are strengthening the criteria in paragraph 14 for withholding or reducing awards on account of the claimant’s previous unspent criminal convictions. We are changing the criteria of paragraphs 18 and 59, which deal with the time limits for applying for compensation and for accepting offers of an award. The time limit for making applications has been two years since the introduction of the statutory tariff-based scheme in 1996. However, the power to waive that time limit has been used so frequently that there is ambiguity about whether the time limit is intended to be fixed, as it ought to be. The power to waive the time limit has been used frequently but inconsistently because it has depended on the discretion of different case workers. The clarification will stop unfairness and anomalies arising from the use of that discretion.
We have not altered the number and value of the 25 tariff points, but we have made changes to the tariff of injuries. We have changed some of the descriptions of awards for sexual offences to bring them into line with terminology from the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and ensure consistency with current law. We have inserted some new categories and made other changes to rectify inconsistencies. We have substantially recast the section dealing with brain damage to recognise the wide range of brain injuries. That will enable the award to be more closely aligned to the injury suffered. We have increased the awards payable for injuries to teeth in recognition of the fact that victims often have to use some of the award to pay for corrective dental treatment. We have also inserted a number of new injury descriptions, changed the descriptions of some injuries and moved one or two injuries into higher or lower tariff bands, where operational experience over the past few years and medical and legal advice suggest that that would be appropriate. The tariffs now list 450 different injuries.
If parliamentary approval is given, we intend the draft scheme, known as the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2008, to come into force at the same time as the new arrangements for appeals come into force under the tribunals legislation. I am perfectly happy to answer any questions or points raised by members of the Committee, but I think that I have covered the main aims of the changes made in the 2008 scheme.
4.41 pm
Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): It is a pleasure, Mrs. Dean, to consider the draft Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2008 under your chairmanship. We welcome the principle behind the scheme, which emanates from 1964, when payments were provided at public expense on a non-statutory basis to blameless victims of crimes of violence and to those injured trying to apprehend criminals or prevent crime. The genesis of the measure and the changes presented is the 2005 consultation document “Rebuilding Lives: supporting victims of crime”, as the Minister said. The issues, in many ways, are not significant—certainly not as significant as those proposed and recommended in the 2005 document. We would probably have had an amendment to the 2001 scheme, and not the new scheme before us, if the appeals procedures were not being removed and the first-tier tribunal was not absorbing the appeals processes, in accordance with the Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Act 2007.
We need to look at whether today is a missed opportunity in some ways. In terms of the structure and parameters of the scheme we are in status-quo land. We need to ask if there is evidence that there should be no change. It is hard to find out what the level of the response to the consultation on the 2005 document was. Can the Minister provide details on the number who responded and who they were? From the document, it is possible to retrieve the consultation response from Victim Support, but it would be interesting to see how many other victims support groups were engaged. Significant proposals from that consultation have not been followed through in the scheme before us today.
We should speak to victims groups, particularly grassroots organisations. I recently attended the conference of the National Victims’ Association. It was very vocal in its criticism of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. It considers the awards, which have been confirmed bar minor amendments to the 2008 scheme, derisory, particularly the awards for those who have been bereaved by homicide. They consider £11,000 as treating them with contempt.
Maria Eagle: Does the hon. Gentleman consider the awards derisory?
Mr. Burrowes: Given that it is a state-rationed scheme, the awards are welcome. To rebut my own point: if one follows through with awards on civil claims, there is parity. Nevertheless, it is important to look at the confines within the present scheme and at whether there should be more opportunities, not just in relation to financial awards but also non-financial awards. Many groups feel short-changed by the funding that has been accounted to them, not least through the victims surcharge. Perhaps I can go through that in more detail later. Delays are a concern, which many victims feel is apparent in the present scheme. Does the proposed scheme adequately address the delays?
The second issue that the 2005 consultation document sought to address was the speed of making payments. The statistics for 2006-07 showed that there were 87,543 outstanding criminal injuries compensation applications, most of which—73 per cent., I understand—were in the first decision phase. That raised a concern that is felt to this day. Today I was speaking to a practitioner involved in processing applications and was told that there is still a concern about the time that it takes to receive police and medical reports. That is not to criticise the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, but there is a concern about the obstacle to receiving timely police and medical reports.
On page 20 of the 2005 document, the Government stated:
“We will work with Chief Constables to accelerate and simplify the process for providing police reports to as to meet the new target in the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime of 30 days for providing the initial police report.”
Will the Minister tell us what work has been done with chief constables to accelerate and simplify the process, and whether the 30-day target has been met? On the ground, it would appear that it is not routinely met.
The third element of the 2005 document concerned taking account of the applicant’s criminal record. This scheme seeks to clarify that the compensation award should take account of that. I will ask the Minister again whether the consultation produced evidence that there should not be a change. The genesis of this scheme is not so much the 2005 document but the 1964 scheme, which applied the same principles to criminal injuries compensation as to civil claims damages, and that principle of reducing awards on the basis of an applicant’s criminal record is not found in civil claims in civil courts.
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Prepared 15 July 2008