Cuts threat to Scottish victims of crime

Ken Clarke's proposals may be adopted by the Scottish Government. Picture: Getty
Ken Clarke's proposals may be adopted by the Scottish Government. Picture: Getty
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HUNDREDS of victims of violent crime could receive no compensation or see payouts slashed under proposals being considered by the Scottish Government.

Ministers may adopt Westminster plans to cut the criminal compensation bill in a move that could save Holyrood millions of pounds a year.

Payouts for minor injuries would be scrapped while those for some more serious injuries would be sharply decreased to target funding on victims who suffer severe injuries.

More than 3,000 victims of crime get compensation ranging from £1,000 to £250,000 each year in Scotland but there are concerns about an increase in claims for minor injuries.

Scottish Government officials will this week meet victims’ groups, police and prosecutors to gauge whether Scotland should follow the rest of the UK and curb payouts under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme. A spokesman said there was a “clear need” for reform.

However, the government is expected to face a backlash, with victims’ support groups describing the proposals as simply a cost-cutting measure that will deny people financial recompense for distressing injuries.

At present, there are 25 compensation bands starting at £1,000 for sprains and fractures, or “temporary mental anxiety”. At the top end of the scale, victims can get up to £250,000 if they suffer paralysis and serious brain damage requiring full-time care. Payouts currently average £4,500. But Justice Secretary Ken Clarke is concerned total payouts have now soared to more than £230 million a year. Under the Ministry of Justice consultation paper – “Getting it right for victims and witnesses” – victims who receive less than £2,000, for injuries such as dislocated jaws, broken hands and toes and concussion, would get nothing. Minor burns victims, who now get up to £1,500, will also be excluded. Payouts of £2,000-£8,200 for the more seriously injured would also face a cut of up to 60 per cent, while higher amounts, for severe injury, would be protected.

Victim Support Scotland estimates almost half of the 3,200 victims of crime compensated each year in Scotland would lose out.

David McKenna, its chief executive, said: We think it’s potentially going to be a 25 to 30 per cent cut. Across the UK, £230m is paid out, so we’re talking about cuts of £50m to £60m, [or] £5m to £6m at least in Scotland.

“People who suffer a broken nose, legs or arms – common injuries from violent crime – will get nothing. These plans are financially driven.”

He added that, with many cases of violent crime not resulting in convictions, compensation was vital for victims. “What is important is the recognition that you have suffered a violent crime,” he said. “In many cases the person [who committed the crime] is not found, in others they’re not convicted.

“It’s the one thing you get. It’s the symbolism, rather than the money. It’s not making that much difference to their lives, but it’s official recognition something bad has happened to them.”

Paul Brown, chief executive of the Legal Services Agency, a charity which represents victims seeking compensation, said: “I think people will be shocked by this and I am very concerned about it. I would have thought the government would want to preserve support for people who suffer nasty injuries.”

He said the compensation system compared favourably with other parts of the world. He added: “This is a very progressive and much appreciated form of support.”

Both the UK and Scottish governments believe the system is too bureaucratic and want to speed it up so victims receive compensation sooner.

Both administrations are also keen to ensure families of murder victims and people who have suffered sexual abuse and domestic violence are protected from proposed reductions in compensation.

The UK government consultation on the proposals ends next month. The Scottish Government accepts there is a need for change.

A spokesman said: “The Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme is in desperate need for reform.

“We want to see a less bureaucratic scheme more focused on victims seriously affected by crime, [that] ensures victims get compensation quickly.

“We will be discussing these proposals with victims organisations before responding to the UK government.”