Compensation scheme badly flawed

The government's new criminal compensation scheme is riddled with holes, according to the lawyer who overturned the original scheme.

Andrew Dismore, who got the first tariff-based criminal compensation scheme of Home Secretary Michael Howard overturned in the House of Lords in 1994, is to publish a critique of the new scheme, in force since last April.

“It's early days yet,” he warned. “But in six to nine months time we are going to see people who feel incredibly aggrieved because of the way their case is being dealt with. They are going to have expectations that are not going to be met.”

Dismore's report, to be published in a special edition of the Journal for the Practitioners of Injury Law, claims:

awards can be reduced or not made at all if the victim has a certain number of criminal convictions, even if the convictions are not for violence or dishonesty;

the tariff system is inflexible with a fixed sum for a certain injury. A child losing an eye will receive the same compensation as an elderly person;

victims with injuries not defined in the tariff scheme have to go through a complicated procedure to get the Home Secretary to set an appropriate tariff, leading to long delays.

Dismore, a partner at Russell Jones & Walker, said the Government had “lost an opportunity to improve the scheme”. “It was more interested in cutting costs,” he said.

His case was highlighted last week by David Boon, of Nottingham firm Warren & Allen, who found that under the new scheme his client, a prostitute beaten up by her former boyfriend, would probably not qualify for compensation because she had several convictions for soliciting, even though she had no convictions for dishonesty or violence.

Dismore said eligibility was now administered by a civil servant – under the previous scheme it had been a lawyer who made the decision, someone more likely to exercise discretion.

Peter Spurgeon, director of the Criminal Injuries Competition Authority, said rejected applicants could challenge the authority's decision through a review and then appeal panel.

He said the new fixed-tariff system was less flexible, but was a choice that Parliament had made.

“We have 75-80,000 applications a year,” he said. “You either have a swift way of dealing with them or you have a process that takes much longer but that allows individual consideration and discretion.”