As one of our PI Settlement notes last week indicates – a £158,000 CICB pay-out to attack victim Martin Davies – criminal injury compensation awards can be extremely high.
Other than Green Form consultation, legal aid is not available to back CICB claims but the involvement of solicitors and counsel in the Davies case leaves no doubt that the profession has an important role to fulfil.
It is also a reminder that the CICB will, under the right circumstances, make interim awards to claimants.
That is certainly the view of Robert Dixon, a partner in Uxbridge firm Turberville Woodbridge who, with counsel Simon Howarth, took on the Davies case. Dixon is the first to admit that lack of legal aid poses problems. This, and the fact that the CICB does not pay legal costs, necessitates an ultra-fine balancing act between the potential compensation and the level of work to be put into the claim.
"In a situation where you know the client, at the end of the day, is going to have to pay you out of the money he or she ultimately receives by way of compensation, you are acutely aware of the need not to run up fees which will be disproportionate to the final award, whilst at the same time doing the case full justice," he says.
Davies, a carpenter, was attacked outside Wembley Stadium in May 1983. He was pushed over and hit his head on a concrete wall. In May 1985 the CICB awarded him £3,000 general damages.
By 1986 Davies had developed the first signs of epilepsy. The condition was under partial control by 1991 but he would require medication for the rest of his life.
For Dixon and Howarth, one of the most significant features of the final CICB award was the increase in damages for pain, suffering and loss of amenity from the original £3,000 to £35,000.
"It is a high award for general damages and we believe it serves as a significant pointer to indicate the board's approach to cases where there is a serious level of injury," says Dixon.
As far as approaching a CICB case is concerned, Dixon says the approach has to be the same as in any other personal injury action and the funding question must be addressed from the outset.
In this particular case there was an advance agreement that payment of fees would be postponed until the final award. However, Dixon says: "Any practitioner becoming involved in one of these claims must keep at the forefront of his mind the level of fees being generated and the level of the potential award. That cannot be too highly stressed."
As far as the value of professional representation in such cases is concerned, the board is very much its "own man" when it comes to the final decision. There is no doubt in Dixon's mind that while the CICB may not go out of its way to invite properly tempered assistance, it is certainly of value.
And, as in the case of his client, he considers another important role legal advisers can play is to assist claimants in obtaining interim payments, a facility that many claimants are not aware is available.
In short, he says: "There is a good case for more involvement by the profession in these claims, provided those taking on such cases go into them with their eyes open and are aware from the start of the dangers of running up fees which ultimately are disproportionate to the final award."