police tape

Let the punishment fit the crime

Posted on Thu, 09/12/2021

No amount of money can take away the trauma that victims of violent crime endure, though it can go some way to acknowledging the pain and suffering experienced. 

In 1996, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) set up Criminal Injuries and Compensation Authority (CICA) which is designed to compensate victims of violent crime in England, Scotland and Wales. The value of the payments awarded to successful claimants is intended to reflect the gravity of the injury acquired. These can range from £1,500 for recovery from a fractured jaw, up to £250,000 for someone who has been left paralysed in their arms and legs. However, there are strict criteria for eligibility meaning many who have sustained mental or physical injuries as a result of abuse are often denied their right to compensation. 

In light of widespread criticism of this, the MoJ launched a consultation on potential reforms to the Scheme in July 2020. While the consultation closed in October 2020, no update has since been given or timetable set for when it might be. Since the consultation, 13,000 victims have had their claims rejected - around one of two of all those who claimed. 

One in ten of these rejections were a result of an 'unspent criminal conviction'. Introduced in 2012, the CICA bars victims from compensation if they have an unspent conviction. Consequently, thousands of victims of violent crime have been rendered ineligible for compensation. Many organisations representing victims have raised concerns about the impact of this rule on victims of abuse, exploitation and control, arguing that the Scheme does not differentiate between victims who have been forced to offend by their abusers and offenders who have more agency over their actions. 

In 2018, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) recommended that the rule be revised so that awards are not automatically rejected in circumstances where an applicant has a criminal conviction. Subsequently, in its Victims Strategy, the government stated it would consult on the IICSA recommendations - something it has failed to do. Instead, the government said an internal review had been conducted and the rule would not be changed. 

Since then, the MoJ has come under more pressure as a result of the case of Kim Mitchell. Ms Mitchell was sexually assaulted by a teacher at the age of eight, however, her abuser was only convicted 27 years later. By the time she applied to the CICA, she was told she was no longer eligible because of a minor public order offence. In August 2021, Ms Mitchell challenged the decision and High Court Judge Mrs Justice Lang ordered then-Justice Secretary Robert Buckland to conduct a new public consultation. The government never responded. 

The MoJ must reconsider whether victims of violent crime should be denied compensation as a result of what is often very minor transgressions. Unlock, an independent charity for people with criminal records, carried out research to understand some of the reasons why rape victims were denied compensation or offered reduced awards. These included: a failure to pay a TV license, an incident of heckling a politician and a victim of an organised grooming gang who had spent a brief time in custody. In each of these cases, the harm caused to these victims was far greater than any harm caused by them to society.

So, to ensure victims do not needlessly suffer, the MoJ should provide a response to last year's consultation and launch a new one assessing the 'unspent criminal conviction' rule. The current situation is often profoundly unfair and it is the most vulnerable who can suffer the most.