New-look injuries Bill 'still unfair'

THE GOVERNMENT faces further opposition from lawyers to its Criminal Injuries Compensation Bill following the earlier debacle when it was ruled unlawful by the Lords.

Two senior practitioners have identified outstanding criticisms of the tariff-based scheme in separate briefing papers on the revised proposals.

Andrew Dismore of the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, and Suzanne Burn, secretary of the civil litigation committee of the Law Society, say the scheme remains unfair and inflexible.

They are also concerned at an apparent lack of consultation by the Home Secretary, Michael Howard, in taking the plans forward.

Dismore's paper accuses the revised scheme of threatening to undermine the Lords' ruling that Howard exceeded his powers by implementing the original Bill without reference to Parliament.

“The fundamental flaws of the 1994 Tariff Scheme, inflexibility and inability to treat victims as individuals, remain,” concludes Dismore's document, to be circulated among practitioners and politicians.

He adds: “The main problem is still the basic rigidity of the tariff. It is a major improvement on the original plans, but it is still tariff-based.”

Chris Heaps, a Law Society Council member and Eversheds partner, says: “It is unfair and it dangerously concentrates power in the hands of the Ministry.”

Howard's first set of tariff proposals were grafted on to the Common Law compensation scheme. They were introduced last year in an attempt to cut the annual compensation bill by £260 million.

In May, Howard published the new Bill, including concessions worth about £60 million. Dismore and Burn concede that the changes are an improvement. However, criticisms in the briefing papers include:

– The system still includes tariffs, which treat all victims of a specific injury “type” equally, even though the extent and effect of their injury may differ;

– An amendment to the Bill gives the Government power to “tinker” with the Common Law Scheme in the period leading up to Royal Consent – exactly the kind of power the Lords' ruling outlawed.

– Victims cannot begin a claim more than two years after the injury – victims suggest three;

– It is not clear if claimants will be compensated on the basis of full loss of earnings.

Dismore says: “Every victim is different and deserves an individual assessment to take account of the effect of the injury.” He recommends victims are paid an individually assessed sum, or, a tariff plus or minus an amount for their specific circumstances.