EditorSolicitors Journal

CICA: it's criminal

CICA: it's criminal

Under CICA, the injured citizen is still losing out on fair compensation. Ian Bailey calls for urgent reform

It is now ten years since the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) was set up to provide compensation for the victims of crimes of violence within the UK. Its predecessor, the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, was overhauled in 1996 by the then Home Secretary, Michael Howard.


For most of the Board's history, awards were set according to what the victim of the crime would have received in a successful civil claim for compensation against the offender. Not so since 1996. Thus, imagine the scene, all too common in today's world. Your husband or father is walking home one evening when he is viciously set upon by a group of young thugs who beat him up and kick him about the head. He is brain damaged. This sadly leaves him with impaired speech, severe memory problems, little mobility and a total inability to work. He cannot properly access the bathroom or the toilet because both are upstairs. The children start to ask why dad is different and cannot express himself or why he cannot play with them like he used to.

True-life factual situations are not hard to come by. Take the case of Abigail Witchalls who was out walking with her young son was she was subjected to a vicious unprovoked attack that left her paralysed. We cannot help but feel for her circumstances and step back to consider the consequences for her and her young family of the dreadful injuries.

Pre-1996 awards

Any award to a victim of a crime made before 1996 would have taken all matters into consideration, such as the need for different accommodation, the fact that he could never work again and the need to be constantly looked after. Many such awards from the Board exceeded £1,000,000. This would not be that surprising for someone who was the breadwinner of the household, earning £45,000 per year, who would never work again, needed single-storey accommodation and round-the-clock care.

Since April 1996, however, the level of compensation has been determined according to a scale, or tariff, set by Parliament. This limits the amount of compensation to £250,000, but up to £500,000 in the most serious of cases. Injuries are categorised like a price list in the local shop, with sums set out according to the severity of the injury. There are hundreds of different distinctions, with £1,000 for a broken finger and up to £250,000 for tetraplegia. There is no scope to argue special circumstances in any particular case. The ceiling on the amounts that CICA can award has not increased in ten years.

Serious injury complexities

The changes to the scheme, which were very strongly opposed by the union movement at the time, even to the extent of court action, cannot hope to take fully into consideration all the complexities of serious injury. Undoubtedly, the driving force behind the introduction of the tariff scheme was cost, at the expense of those most seriously injured. Since 1996, the true victim has been the injured citizen.

Ten years on, the scheme is now the subject of further debate and possible further revision. Plans are said to include removing the cap of £500,000 to assist the most seriously injured, but ensuring that the victims of less serious crimes are not compensated at all.

If the new plans are implemented, some estimates are that up to 60 per cent of applications to CICA would be refused on the basis that their injury is not serious enough.

Yet again we are seeing the government shuffling the pack at the expense of those injured by crimes of violence. If anyone has ever been robbed or attacked and managed to get away without serious injury, they will understand the trauma of such an event in their lives. It cannot be right that the offender is punished by the criminal law and the victim is awarded no compensation for their physical injuries, however small.

The obvious driving force behind these potential changes was the dreadful attacks on London in July 2005 and pressure on the government to speed up claims for compensation for those injured. The government has become embarrassed by the inadequacy of the system to cope with the types of injuries arising from the bombings and the PR disaster following closely behind. No one would ever consider that the victims of the London bombings should not be properly compensated, but the fact remains that individuals and their families affected by serious crime have gone under-compensated for ten years. This is not something that should be allowed to continue.

As a responsible society, we should ensure proper compensation for all victims of crime, irrespective of the severity of the injury. It is, after all, the state's role to ensure the safety of its citizens. In 1996, it seems to me that we borrowed from the seriously injured to assist those less seriously injured. Now we are simply shuffling the pack the other way. The loser in all of the restructuring will be the victim.

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