A review of the cap on criminal injury compensation is long overdue.
A caring society should ensure that injured people are looked after regardless of how the injury happened. For victims of crime, we have a Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (CICS) to help injured people pick up their lives after suffering harm. According to the government, the CICS is among the ‘most generous’ of such systems in the world. But for the most seriously injured victims of crime, the scheme falls far short.
A limit on the amount of compensation available to a single claimant was capped at £500,000 in 1996 and has remained stagnant since.
The general costs of living, healthcare and rehabilitative services have increased in the past 21 years. We would have expected an inflationary increase to the CICS limit by now, but it never happened. Making an allowance for inflation alone would bring the maximum figure nearer to £840,000.
I have represented many young victims of crime, in particular victims of shaken baby syndrome. These children might be blind, doubly incontinent, unable to feed or move around, or they may have severe learning, emotional or behavioural difficulties. For such children or for brain-damaged adults, £500,000 does not go very far. An inflationary increase is still not enough. It is time the maximum amount of compensation was subjected to a proper appraisal.
In 2012 the Ministry of Justice published a consultation, Getting it right for victims and witnesses. Part 2 was about reforming criminal injuries compensation, but there was no review of the cap on damages.
The irony is that when the government made dramatic cuts to the scheme that year, despite opposition from some of its own MPs, it did so with the promise of ensuring that the remaining resources would be directed to the benefit of the most seriously injured. Quite how that fits with maintaining an outdated and obstructive restriction on damages for the most seriously injured, including a dramatic reduction in awards for lost earnings or earning capacity, is difficult to fathom. The consultation was not the first time a chance to address the situation had been lost.
A House of Commons Delegated Legislation Committee was established in 2008 to review changes to the scheme. At the time, the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers said ‘this review missed an opportunity to amend some ongoing anomalies in the scheme’ and urged for an increase in line with inflation.
The evidence for a review is stark and comes from claimants like Reggie. He was just two months old when he suffered a fractured skull and subdural haemorrhage, with catastrophic consequences. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority agreed that Reggie was the victim of a violent crime. Now six, his life is very different from how it could have been. His vision is severely impaired; he needs a wheelchair and hoists; he communicates by moving his head and arms; he is tube-fed. He requires a great deal of special equipment just to get through day-to-day tasks such as showering. The family is only just getting by with partial adaptations to their home, as they have to be mindful that the money must last.
His mother is all too aware that Reggie would be entitled to more compensation under the current civil system. The family is at an obvious disadvantage and there are profound shortcomings in meeting care needs and life-long specialist support. Had Reggie’s injuries been sustained in a road traffic collision he would have received a lump sum of £750,000-£1m and lifetime annual payments of roughly £100,000.
‘One of the biggest struggles is having people understand that Reggie needs the compensation and that we’re not suddenly OK because Reggie had a payout,’ says Reggie’s mother. She believes the most severe cases should be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
APIL will push for a long-overdue review of the CICS cap. Any scheme for injured people should not be about economics or business, but about looking after vulnerable people in society.
Neil Sugarman is president of APIL