Devon injury solicitor, Mike Clarke dusts off his moral compass and points it in the direction of Ken Clarke and his proposed reform of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) scheme.
Ken Clarke has aroused ire from various quarters for his proposals to slash both the current qualifying status and the amounts of compensation for victims of violent attacks, which are payable from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority scheme (CICA).
As a practising injury lawyer who has done his fair share of CICA claims, my initial reaction to today’s news was a cynical shrug of the shoulders- what more do we expect from this particular government, which has so signally made clear that its primary (if not its only) driving force is the desire to save money?
But then I started thinking about just how the CICA scheme was supposed to operate; the way it actually does operate nowadays; and not least the supposed hard figures behind its operation; and I found myself thinking some rather uncomfortable thoughts.
Pearl Buck (of all people) said, “… the test of a civilization is in the way that it cares for its helpless members.” It by no means follows that every member of society who has been the victim of a crime of violence “deserves” compensation from the State, but in the present hard times, that does beg the whole question of whether there should be some kind of moral compass to criminal injury compensation, and if so, how it should be regulated.
On the one hand, it offends me as much as the next man to read stories of patently undeserving applicants being handed taxpayers’ largesse when they themselves are no ornament to society. Typical examples spring to mind (courtesy of the Daily Mail et al )- the hardened drug pusher who is badly done over by competitors; the violent boyfriend taught a lesson by the brother of his oft-abused girlfriend; the drunken louts who decide one of their number is out of order; and so on, ad nauseam. Such stories find a ready audience when as a nation we can all see what is going wrong around us, on any town or city street on a Saturday night (including those here in the west county, from Barnstaple to Plymouth and from Exeter to Torquay) and never mind what the politicians say.
The problem with that mindset is that the current CICA compensation scheme already has procedures in place to reduce or even refuse taxpayer’s money to those who, by virtue of their criminal past or their own behaviour, are deemed unfit to receive it. Whilst there is a danger in allowing civil servants to pass moral judgements based on a scheme written by civil servants, it does at least provide a kind of rough and ready justice in a system which, after all, is supposed to be a compensation scheme of last resort.
The simple fact is that no fund, whether it be Legal Aid, the NHS, the CICA, or the children’s piggy bank can cope with prolonged payments exceeding receipts. We are told that the current scheme is in the red to the tune of £250 million pounds. If there is just not enough money to go round, there are only 2 options:-
1. extract more money from the taxpayer to keep the current level of CICA compensation payments;
2. cut the eligibility and/or compensation payable under the CICA scheme
Neither is popular, but I venture to suggest that in the present social climate, most people would espouse the second option, simply because when the shoe pinches, we all tend to become very selective in our social conscience.
Indeed, some contributors to comments pages in the media have dared to suggest that there should be no State compensation for criminal injuries at all. Logically, it can be seen as a social luxury, designed to help those who suffer through no fault of their own, and is therefore a mark of civilised society. Trouble is, someone has to pay for it.
The reason that the CICA exists is because all too often the perpetrators of violent injury either cannot be identified, or cannot be traced, or simply have nothing to make it worth pursuing them through the long-established channel of civil law. The need for such a scheme and the fact that it now seems to be teetering on the edge of “bankruptcy” tells us something about the society that requires it, as well as the degree of use being made of it.
Sadly, there will always be those who batten upon weaker members of society. It is very often difficult, if not impossible, for the State to secure contributions to society’s welfare from those who are most likely to abuse it or damage others. It would be very worrying if a scheme such as the CICA were to vanish completely, but there is no denying the blunt logic that expenditure cannot forever exceed income. Therefore, the only option is to limit the one and make best use of the other. That in turn requires some form of social judgment being passed on those who seek to claim. What Ken Clarke has proposed is nothing more than a tightening of considerations that already exist.
It is not comfortable to contemplate, but how else are the sheep to be sorted from the goats?
Mike Clarke is based at Slee Blackwell’s Bideford office in North Devon, where he specialises in personal injury claims, including CICA claims. Fortunately the other Mr Clarke’s proposed reforms will leave the basic framework of the CICA scheme in tact so that the majority of innocent victims of serious criminal injury and violence will continue to be eligible for compensation. Slee Blackwell’s injury solicitors will therefore be able to continue to deal with CICA compensation claims on a no win – no fee basis.
For further details of our CICA claims service contact one of our injury lawyers or call any of our offices located in Devon and Somerset.