Rachel Cairnes, policy and public affairs adviser at the Association of Consumer Support Organisations (ACSO), responded to the Ministry of Justice consultation on the Criminal Injuries Compensation scheme review.
The submission highlighted a number of substantial flaws and inefficiencies within the current system, alongside growing concerns that the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) process is prolonging the experience of victims of violent crimes.
"The Scheme is characterised by lengthy delays to the processing of claims, a lack of clear communication between victims and case handlers, and the need to appeal the majority of decisions made by the CICA. Moreover, for legal representatives acting on behalf of victims, the time and resources involved in pursuing CICA compensation often outweighs the financial return. Owing to this lack of commercial viability, a number of law firms commit to helping victims of violence pursue CICA compensation only because they believe it is morally right to do so. We are aware of other law firms who are- or are considering- no longer representing applicants to the Scheme. Although the CICA application form states that victims do not need to be represented to apply for criminal injuries compensation, owing to the complexity of the system, legal assistance is often a vital part of a successful claim. It follows that a lack of legal representation is likely to be a significant obstacle to victims' access to justice.
"In 2019, the former Victims' Commissioner for England and Wales, Baroness Newlove, published her review into criminal injuries compensation. This made a number of important recommendations, including for the CICA to consider how to provide victims with active miles in the claims process. In line with this recommendation, we believe the introduction of stricter service standards and timescales to the Scheme will help ensure compensation is delivered quickly and will avoid causing victims unnecessary anxiety and frustration. It is disappointing that such as measure has not been considered as part of this review.
"In order to keep pace with both the changing nature of violent crime in the UK and innovations that may enable the modernisation of the Scheme, we recommend that the fundamental aspects of the Scheme are reviewed at least every three years and reported on. This will allow for the identification of flaws within the process, to evaluate the success and/or failure of existing measures and for appropriate increases in award levels.The reviews should involve direct engagement with victims alongside a range of industry stakeholders, including law firms and membership bodies such as ACSO".
Cairnes concluded by referring to the vision outlined in the cross-government Victims Strategy for a justice system that will "support even more victims to speak up by giving them the certainty they will be understood, that they will be protected, and they will be supported throughout their journey, regardless of their circumstances or background". In order help realise this vision, "modernisation of the CICA Scheme is required, alongside the introduction of rigid timeframes and improvements in communication between victims, their representatives and CICA file handlers".
ACSO members can read the submission in full on the members' area of the website.