When someone is the victim of a violent crime, it is right that they receive compensation in recognition of the injuries they have sustained and to help rebuild their lives.
This principle is recognised by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA), which processes more than 30,000 applications each year through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme. Yet there exist serious flaws and inefficiencies within the scheme that are prolonging victims' pain and frustration and preventing access to justice.
The scheme is characterised by lengthy processing delays, with even straightforward claims taking an average of 18 months to receive a decision. Many law firms report the need to appeal the majority of CICA decisions, and communication between victims and their case handlers is inconsistent and often poor.
Given the complexity of the scheme, legal representation can be an integral part of a successful claim. However, for legal representatives, the time and resources needed to pursue CICA compensation for victims often outweighs the return. Owing to this lack of commercial viability, in particular for cases worth £10,000 and under, a number of law firms help victims pursue CICA claims only because they believe it is right to do so. Other are - or are considering - no longer acting in this area as they simply do not have the resources to do so.
This represents a substantial access to justice issue and runs counter to the principle of awarding victims compensation in recognition of their injuries. Indeed, a number of charities, including Victim Support, report a low uptake of CICA applications as victims are deterred by the difficulties involved in making a claim.
It is imperative that the Ministry fo Justice (MoJ) and the CICA find a way to improve this situation. Help and guidance is needed from a wide range of stakeholders, including legal service providers, charities and membership bodies, as well as feedback from victims themselves.
Although the MoJ is reviewing the scheme, the concern in the Covid era is that revisions to the scheme are unlikely to be considered a priority and government funding will be channelled elsewhere.
It is also not apparent that many of the recommendations made by the former Victims' Commissioner in 2019 have been implemented, or indeed sufficiently recognised within the MoJ review. This fuels scepticism as to how significant an impact it will have, exacerbated by the fact that the CICA, being an independent executive agency, falls outside of its scope.
A more efficient and effective claims process is needed, including through using automation where appropriate. The new process will need regular evaluation of its success and its ability to keep pace with the changing nature of violent crime in the UK.
Without reform, more victims of violent crime risk losing access to justice and the cross-government 'Victims Strategy' will not be realised. Its vision is one we share: to ensure a justice system that will "support even more victims to speak up by giving them the certainty that they will be understood, that they will be protected, and they will be supported throughout their journey, regardless of their circumstances or background".