Victims of crime to lose out as ministers cut costs

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The Independent Online
THE GOVERNMENT is to press ahead with a scheme aimed at slicing millions off the criminal injuries compensation budget, in spite of pledges to put crime victims at the forefront of law and order policy.

A White Paper next month will detail a fixed award system, beginning on 1 April, to categorise injuries into bands giving a set value for each, replacing the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board scheme of individual assessments of injury and financial losses.

A letter from Michael Jack, a former Home Office minister, makes clear the intention to break the link between current and future levels of payment. Other Home Office correspondence says: 'Our objective in future is simply to provide a sum of money in tangible recognition of society's sympathy and concern for the victim.'

CICB awards are the principal avenue of financial redress for victims whose attackers are not worth pursuing in the courts. In some cases, the changes will mean that a victim of negligent driving will receive far more than the victim of horrific violence.

Labour warned yesterday that the system will cause widespread unfairness because victims will receive the same payment, regardless of circumstances. In addition, the CICB minimum award will increase from pounds 1,000 to pounds 1,500, excluding at least 14,000 from the scheme.

The paper comes against the background of rocketing costs - pounds 42m in 1986-87 and an estimated pounds 150m in 1994-85 - but Lord Carlisle of Bucklow, the board chairman, has warned Mr Jack that a tariff system that failed to take proper account of lost wages, expectation of life, and differing levels of pain, suffering, or mental stress would be 'unfair in principle and in important categories of cases unworkable in practice'.

Ministers are keen to introduce a speedier system - but at a cost to many individual claimants. Mr Jack said in his reply: 'It is our intention to pitch the initial tariff at a level that produces an average award broadly the same as at present. But once the basis on which payments are made is changed . . . the linkage to common law damages and to their rate of increase will be broken.'

The White Paper will include plans for a non-legally aided two-tier appeal system - an internal review by scheme administrators and an appeal to an independent panel. Between 11,000 and 12,000 are expected in a full year, but principally over eligibility.

Labour research cites the example of a teacher shot by a pupil, whose injury delayed promotion. He received a CICB payment of pounds 12,500 - pounds 10,000 for loss of income. No such payment would be possible in future.

Because the present system is non- statutory, changes can be made without clause-by-clause scrutiny in a Bill.