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Compensation for victims of violent crime

Lloyd Green

I was struck by a headline I read on the BBC website the other day which said “New York City celebrates a day without violent crime”.  It went on to say that for the first time in living memory New York had spent a day entirely without violent crime.  There was apparently not a single murder, shooting or other violent incident for the whole day.  Interestingly enough there have already been 366 murders so far this year in New York City.

Unfortunately violent crime is a fact of life and despite the best efforts of the police and law enforcement to prevent the same and reduce the incident rate, violent crime will always be with us.

For the 12 months to June 2012 statistics show that there were 59.61 violent crimes per 1,000 population in Essex.  Statistics also show that, for the area where my office is based in the centre of Chelmsford, in the month of October there were 494 crimes, of which 64 were violent crimes.

With every crime of violence there is going to be a victim and last week in the Gazette I expressed my annoyance and frustration at the rules that the Government instigated from 27 November in respect of compensation for victims of violent crime.

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) is a Government organisation that was set up to pay money (an award) to people who had been physically or mentally injured because they were the blameless victim of a violent crime.

The concept, although in itself frightening, is one of Governments’ more sensible initiatives, but the ability now to make a claim for an innocent victim has been diluted to a point whereby the victim of such a violent crime in some instances will receive little or no compensation for an unprovoked attack.

The union USDAW stated that 50% of victims currently eligible for compensation would receive nothing in future and 40% would see their compensation claim severely reduced.

All this saves the Government £50m pa and takes thousands upon thousands of victims of violence out of the system. Currently there are 30-40,000 victims compensated each year and this number will drop dramatically.

As a firm we handle a number of such cases and my solicitors will now have to tell potential clients that they may not get any compensation at all for less serious injuries, and will receive comparatively small sums of money for more serious injuries.

As an example the new rules would end payment of compensation to victims for claims below £2,500, and significantly reduce payments for claims below £11,000.

This means that victims who suffer concussion, temporary deafness or minor burns, which could include police or shop workers injured in armed robberies, would no longer be eligible for any payment.

On top of this any claimant must have received regular pay for at least 3 years immediately before the date of an incident to qualify for loss of earnings compensation and any such loss of earnings will be at the rate of SSP for the number of weeks in question.

It will also be an absolute requirement that the matter is reported to the police.

The expression “soft on the perpetrators of crime and hard on the victims of crime” is probably the best way of summing up what this has led to.  It cannot be right that the perpetrator of a crime is protected while the victim of a violent assault is not, but this is what the Government has managed to achieve.

As a firm we will still continue to act for victims of such violent crimes and seek under the new rules to obtain the best possible settlement for them, but there is no doubt that a number of people will be expressing their dismay and horror that they will no longer be able to claim any compensation, or that the compensation that they will be receiving from now on is significantly less than it was a week ago.

As a solicitor I am not here to apologise for Government policies or decisions, but obviously to work within the realms of legislation, no matter how abhorrent that legislation may appear to be and in particular how unfair it is.

No doubt future governments may look again at this whole area and come to the right conclusion that compensating the victim of a violent crime is significantly more important than looking after the rights of the individual who caused that crime, and make appropriate adjustments to the system.