Lawyers to test criminal injuries changes

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Indy Politics
MICHAEL HOWARD, the Home Secretary, is facing the growing threat of a high-powered legal challenge to his controversial changes to compensation for criminal injuries after a decision by the Law Society to mount all-out opposition to the plan.

The society is consulting counsel with a view to testing the Home Office's right to introduce the changes, which would replace the current assessment of individual victims by a tariff that ties the value of compensation to the type of physical injury that the individual has suffered.

The Law Society is ready to assist if a trade union - or other body - decides to bring an action challenging the scheme.

Lord Ackner, a former law lord, and Lord Irvine, a leading Labour QC, suggested last week that the scheme was statutory and would need fresh primary legislation to change it.

The Law Society's legal services committee also suggested yesterday that the planned changes, which would mean that the victim's age and income would not be taken into account in awards, could be in conflict with the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Government admits that the changes will cut pounds 250m from the pounds 500m that the scheme would otherwise cost, between now and the end of the century, though they argue that more than half of victims stand to receive more compensation under the new scheme.

The Police Federation, the Fire Brigades Union, and the Royal College of Nursing are all understood to have expressed interest in challenging the changes.

The Law Society indicated that senior lawyers might be available to give their services free of charge to assist such an action.

The society strongly rejects suggestions by Conservative politicians that it is against the changes because lawyers stand to lose work as a result of the scheme. But it is anxious not to take the sole lead in bringing such a case.

The potential move is a further embarrassment to the Home Office, which argues that the scheme pays out more than the equivalent compensation that is paid by all the other European Union countries put together.

The Home Secretary has already been forced to make significant changes to the Police and Magistrates' Court Bill as a result of opposition in the House of Lords.