Protests have been gathering momentum with lawyers, the Police Federation and those concerned with victims' welfare united in opposition.
The Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, which administers the current scheme and is largely made up of specialist lawyers, is unanimously against the Government's plans. It maintains that the motivation behind the initiative is to cut the spiralling cost of compensation, which has risen from pounds 52m in 1987-88 to pounds 152m last year.
No new legislation is needed before the changes are introduced but Labour has put down an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill over victim compensation and a further debate is expected in the Lords next week. Those against the changes argue the Government is rushing through its proposals, which were revealed only on 15 December last year.
Crawford Lindsay QC, a member of the board, said the new system, to be based on a 'tariff' of compensation for a list of injuries, would be 'manifestly unfair'. The effect of the loss of an eye was not the same for a man in his eighties as for a young pilot, yet both would receive the same pounds 20,000 compensation.
'Some people are very stoic about relatively serious injuries while others are extremely distressed by what appear to be minor events. You cannot measure the effect on an individual by the length of a scar,' he told a conference on victim support at the London School of Economics.
Case examples given to conference delegates included a psychiatric nurse who was attacked and had to cease work as a result. Under the old scheme, she received pounds 125,000, but under the new she would only get pounds 5,000.
The family of a pub doorman who was stabbed to death when he tried to intervene in a fight received pounds 100,000, but would be entitled to a maximum of pounds 10,000 under the new rules.
Victim Support, a pressure group, is in favour of tariffs but says the Government's are too low, particularly for certain cases such as rape and sexual abuse of children.
David Maclean, Home Office minister, speaking at the same conference, denied that the intention was to save money and said Britain paid out more in victim compensation than all the other members of the EU put together.
He rejected complaints that the abolition of loss of earnings compensation would mean far lower awards for those people whose jobs were lost because of their injuries. The new process would speed up the granting of awards as it would be simpler to administer. It would not involve legal debate and endless medical reports. The tariff was based on existing awards.
'It is indeed the case that the tariff scheme will not differentiate between different classes of people or different occupational groups. Everyone receiving a similar injury will receive the same award.
'It is legitimate to ask the taxpayer to pay a sum to mark society's abhorrence that someone has been a victim of crime. I think it is another matter to make a taxpayer fund some people much more than others who have suffered the same injury just because that person is in a higher paid job,' he said.
Tony Blair, the shadow Home Secretary, also attacked the Government's motivation and said the potential savings were as much as 20 per cent of the total bill.
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