Compensation overhaul grants gays equal rights

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The Independent Online

Gay rights campaigners last night described as "hugely significant" the government plans that will enable gays to claim compensation if their partner is killed.

Gay rights campaigners last night described as "hugely significant" the government plans that will enable gays to claim compensation if their partner is killed.

The proposal, lauded as the biggest step for equal rights since the equalisation of the age of consent, forms part of a £20m overhaul of the criminal injuries system published by the Home Office yesterday.

A spokesman for Stonewall, the gay rights group, said the Government had come under increasing pressure to reform criminal compensation after the bombing of the Admiral Duncan Pub in Soho, London in April 1999, when compensation was paid to the partners of heterosexual victims but not gays' partners.

A spokesman for Stonewall said: "This is a hugely significant move, both as a landmark and in application to people's lives. It shows something about the value attached to lesbian and gay relations and is the biggest boost to equality between gay and heterosexual relationships since the equalisation of the age of consent [in 2000]."

But the tariff increases, payable by Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (CICS), were condemned by some victims of violent crime.

Compensation for many types of injury will increase by up to 10 per cent, including severe burns (from £30,000 to £33,000) and loss of a hand or arm (£40,000 to £44,000).

Other injuries have been reclassified so those who suffered severe child sex abuse can receive £8,200 and those disfigured by facial scarring can receive £4,400.

The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, said that the package will cost an estimated £20m a year on top of the CICS's £200m annual budget.

The system pays a fixed amount, or tariff, for each type of wound but has been criticised because each victim can only be compensated for three injuries, no matter how many they received. The full tariff is granted for the most serious wound, 10 per cent for the second most serious and 5 per cent for the third.

Mr Straw said the formula would increase to 100 per cent, 30 per cent and 15 per cent but people who have suffered multiple injuries will still only be able to claim for three.

Sheridon Quintyne, whose daughter Francesca suffered facial scarring in a machete attack at St Luke's Primary School in Wolverhampton in 1996, criticised the new tariffs which would have meant an additional £4,000 for her daughter. Francesca's initial pay-out of £8,100 was increased last month to £23,000 on appeal. Ms Quintyne said: "Jack Straw should come and tell Fran when she's going through her teenage years, with the facial scarring and the mental scarring she suffers, that this is fair."

Her lawyer, Tom Jones, said that a woman seeking compensation for serious facial scarring in the civil courts could expect to receive between £24,000 and £48,000.

"For Francesca the new tarrifs would have meant an increase of only about £4,000. If it wasn't so upsetting it would be laughable.

"The headline figure of the package looks impressive but the detail is disappointing."

The relatively low level of compensation awarded in the criminal courts was highlighted earlier this month when the former nursery nurse Lisa Potts, who shielded children from the attacker at the Wolverhampton school, learnt that she would receive just £49,000 for her terrible injuries.

Under the proposals, which are due to be introduced in April, the minimum award for rape victims will be increased to £11,000 and people who suffer multiple injuries will receive higher sums.

Julie Bindel, of the Rape Crisis Federation, said: "This is an improvement; it is going in the right direction.

"We are pleased that the Government is recognising that the effect of rape and sexual violence on women is significant. Previously, [being raped] has usually been considered - in terms of how much the Government has put into resourcing - as being less [traumatising] than being burgled or mugged."

A new category will allow people infected with HIV or having Aids to receive a £22,000 pay-out, the same tariff as loss of sight in one eye, loss of a kidney or rape with severe injuries.

Mr Straw said last night: "I want victims of crime to have a greater confidence that we are looking after their interests and listening to their concerns.

"Our action to change the CICS demonstrates our commitment to ensure victims are better served by the criminal justice system, which for too long has overlooked their needs and interests."