CICA – Calls for Reform

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme exists to compensate victims of violent crimes. It is administered by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA), whose stated aims include sensitively dealing with applicants, fairly deciding applications and efficiently managing all cases.

However Baroness Newlove, the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, noted recently that “criminal injuries compensation is important in helping vulnerable victims cope and recover from the most brutal of crimes. Yet my review shows that the process of making their claim, which should strengthen victims, can have the opposite effect. The process of claiming is often having a detrimental impact on their wellbeing”. Baroness Newlove has subsequently argued for wholesale reform of the CICA scheme.

Indeed our own experience of representing clients supports Baroness Newlove’s view that the current system is detrimental to clients and adds to the trauma of the violent crime that they have suffered. One of our clients was left with multiple injuries, including a serious brain injury, following an assault. The client has told us, “The assault changed my life and I now suffer from memory difficulties, chronic fatigue and anxiety and panic attacks, among other symptoms. I have tried my best to get back to a normal life, but have found the CICA process to be extremely distressing and stressful. Despite my solicitors repeatedly chasing the CICA and having to make an official complaint, I did not receive even an initial decision from the CICA until many years after the assault. I then had to challenge that decision. Throughout those years, I feel that I have been unable to move on with my life. I was always waiting for the CICA to get back to me or to decide something. I have to continually relive the assault and talk about all the ways that my life is worse rather than being able to concentrate on the good things I do have in my life and the great progress I have made. I feel that the CICA has added to my trauma and negatively affected my ability to recover both psychologically and emotionally from the assault.”

What is the current system?

The CICA system allows for the CICA to make the initial decision. If the applicant is unhappy with this decision, they then need to apply for it to be reviewed. This review is done internally by the CICA. Once that review has been carried out and a final decision reached by the CICA, the applicant will be able to appeal to the First Tier Tribunal, a court, if they are still unhappy.

The CICA is under no statutory obligation to make its decision within a certain timeframe.

What are the current problems?

We often act for victims in these cases and have found the process to be very slow and unnecessarily traumatic for applicants. Even when you meet the criteria, there can still be lengthy delays in obtaining any interim funds from the CICA, which can result in financial hardship for applicants, particularly when they are unable to work due to injuries stemming from the assault.

Until the CICA has made a decision, the case can drag on forever as the applicant currently has no recourse to the court’s system. Statistics published by the CICA for 2017/2018 suggest that on average an applicant will wait 373 days to receive a first decision. In our experience it can be considerably longer than that. If they are unhappy with that decision, they will still have to wait for an internal review process, which, in our experience, often results in a significant delay before they can appeal and appear before a court. There will then be another delay waiting for a judge to give case management directions and then obtaining a hearing date.

It is our experience that even when the CICA is faced with a case where the victim is obviously entitled to receive some level of award, there can still be a significant delay in receiving any funds from the CICA. Applicants are made to feel that they must jump through hoops in order to get what they are already entitled to.

In addition, the rules under the CICA schemes are complex and calculating losses can be a difficult exercise, which is not easy for applicants to do themselves. Current statistics suggest that 60% applicants do not have legal representation, which can make it very hard for them to ensure that they do receive the appropriate level of compensation. In the majority of cases where we are instructed, the initial offer of the CICA is inadequate and a higher award is obtained through review or a subsequent appeal. We had one case where an applicant was offered around £20,000 following a serious brain injury, which concluded on appeal for the maximum of £500,000.

The 2017/2018 statistics also suggest that of the decisions where an applicant is awarded nil compensation by the CICA, a third then go on to receive compensation from the tribunal.

Possible solutions

There are several changes that we would suggest should be made to this process. Applicants should be permitted to apply directly to the First Tier Tribunal if they do not receive a decision from the CICA within 12 months of their initial application. This would allow applicants to take steps to ensure that their case is being dealt with in a timely manner rather than waiting for the CICA.

The internal CICA Review stage should be removed. In our experience it rarely results in an acceptable outcome and usually leads to a delay.

The scheme should include the possibility of Alternative Dispute Resolution either by way of face to face meetings between the CICA case handler and the claimant’s representative or a mediation with the mediator’s fee being paid for by the CICA. Mediation would give the CICA and applicant more control of the process and would avoid the need for a public court hearing, which can be very stressful for the applicant.

There should be a mandatory requirement for the CICA to provide interim payments in cases where the CICA has decided an award at some level will be made. This would help provide financial aid to applicants throughout the lengthy process at the time of most pressing need. This would benefit the applicant’s wellbeing as well as giving them the means to access care, therapy or treatment as required, something which will hopefully reduce their overall level of pain, suffering and/or disability.