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CICA trauma and injury lawyer Elizabeth Duncan looks at the findings of a new report that highlights problems caused by the CICA system re-traumatising victims of crime.
The report published by Baroness Newlove raises a number of issues with the Ministry of Justice’s Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA). However, as a lawyer specialising in securing compensation for those who have suffered abuse or assault, I have had these same concerns for a number of years. I have spoken to hundred of people who have suffered awful harm as a result of the eligibility criteria and process of applying for compensation from the CICA. All too often I find myself explaining to clients that they might not be eligible to receive compensation and, in response to the understandable frustration such a response is met with, I can only agree that the CICA scheme often results in injustice. Of course, my sympathy is of little comfort to someone who has suffered an unprovoked assault or years of abuse.
For example, if a victim suffers a deterioration in their mental health and, having hit rock bottom, commit a non-violent crime which results in a community order they could be refused compensation entirely for the years of horrific abuse they suffered as a child. One mistake years ago can result in a claim for compensation being rejected, even though it is unrelated and very serious. Mr Jenkins from South Wales says, “I was tortured with red hot irons in my own home and my ear was bitten off. It feels like anyone can do anything they want to me and there’s nothing I can do about it because of one mistake 10 years ago. I will be scarred for life and there’s nothing I can do.” Mr Jenkins’ story doe not feel like justice.
The two-year time limit can also be an issue, particularly where there is a long running Police investigation or if it takes some time for the applicant to feel able to report what happened to them to the Police. Baroness Newlove highlights that, “fewer than two-in-five people could remember being told about their entitlement to claim by the police or victim services”. If the relevant deadline passes without the victim of a violent crime being aware the Scheme exists, they may be refused compensation. Whilst it is possible for the CICA to extend the time limit in ‘exceptional circumstances’, not being aware the Scheme exists is not a valid reason for failing to have applied within the time limit as far as the CICA are concerned. How can a traumatised victim of a violent crime apply to a Scheme they simply do not know exists? Being refused compensation on such arbitrary grounds can be retraumatising in itself, but if the eligibility criteria appear to be met a further set of hurdles must be overcome.
The CICA are extremely slow. It is common for there to be months or even years go by with no apparent meaningful progress with the claim. As an example, I have a claim where the evidence required to prove the claim was submitted over 2 ½ years ago. Save for some standard letters requesting information the CICA already have, no meaningful response has been forthcoming. I appreciate the CICA seems to be overwhelmed with limited resources, but such a long wait with no apparent progress prevents my client from moving on. They are often left stuck, ruminating on distressing experiences and unable to move forward with their lives. If the CICA could give a rough timescale, then the applicant would have something to aim for. It appears that as standard they will refuse to give any timescale, which leaves the applicant wondering day after day whether there will be any news. This can be very distressing and whilst the CICA would not need to be bound by a timescale, giving a rough idea of when there may be some news could make a huge positive difference to many people. It may give them the chance to put the matter to the back of their mind for a few months, offering some respite. One current client spoke of her frustration, “It is traumatic enough for us victims. After going through a gruelling Court case we just hope for some light at the end of the tunnel, but there is no closure. I am waking up every morning wondering if today will be the day there will be some news from the CICA. It is just wrong, they provide no updates and I am just in limbo not knowing if they have even looked properly at my case yet”.
When news is received, it is often a standard letter which may request information already provided or seek updated documents as there has been such a delay in evidence was submitted it is now outdated. These repeated requests for information can be at best frustrating, but in some cases extremely distressing.
I am in complete agreement with Baroness Newlove that there is no need for specific details of the abuse or assault to be included in the application, where the CICA will request this information from the Police in every case. It is difficult enough with the assistance of a lawyer for support, so I cannot imagine how hard it must be for a victim of a crime of violence to do this themselves.
I have also seen cases where the CICA have refused to investigate an aspect of an injury which the applicant felt was linked to the assault she suffered. If this individual did not have a lawyer who was able to fund specialist orthopaedic evidence to look into this, her possible entitlement to compensation could have been severely limited. To specifically ask a treating consultant not to comment or consider an aspect of their patient’s condition is concerning and unfair to that person. One applicant represented by me said the following, “I was assaulted and left with lift changing injuries. The claim has gone on and on, I do feel lucky to have a lawyer to deal with this for me. I could never had done this alone. I feel they have all the information they should need, but nothing seems to be enough for them.” This is a claim I have obtained independent orthopaedic evidence to fully explore the injuries suffered and the effect this had on my client. If she had been pursuing the claim alone, I genuinely believe her claim would have been severely limited. She did not have the means to obtain this evidence herself.
Whilst the CICA is designed to allow victims of a violent crime to apply themselves, the reality is that not having independent legal advice could be severely limiting the amount of compensation they receive. Sometimes, by the time they do seek such advice it is simply too late for our specialist team of be able to offer assistance. For those who do thankfully seek early advice, the result can be staggering. A recent example is where an initial offer of £16,500 was increased to over £181,000 on appeal.