changes needed | 

Compensation for crime victims can add to 'stress' and 'anguish', report claims

Radical overhaul sought for system plagued with compensation delays for victims
Crime victim (stock photo)

Crime victim (stock photo)

Shane Phelan

People who suffer injuries as a result of crime experience lengthy delays, bureaucratic hurdles and procedural obstacles in getting compensation, the State’s law reform watchdog has warned.

In a scathing criticism of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, the Law Reform Commission said victims are required to repeatedly revisit details of the violent crimes they have been subjected to, which can actually compound the stress and anguish they experience.

It also hit out at the way in which the scheme is funded, finding that because its budget is provided on an annual basis, it can run out if there are large claims in a given year.

This can leave claimants having to wait longer than they should have to before receiving compensation.

“When a large claim absorbs a significant proportion of the annual budget in a given year, this causes delays for both large and small claims,” the commission said.

The observations are published today in a consultation paper on compensating victims of crime.

In the paper, the commission advocates for additional non-monetary supports for victims. It said these could include access to counselling or assistance in rejoining the workforce through retraining.

Although the commission said it had already done an extensive analysis of the scheme, it plans to hold a 10-week public consultation period before issuing recommendations to the Government later this year.

At present, the scheme is administered by the Department of Justice, with decisions on compensation being made by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal.

However, the scheme is not based on statute. The commission said it was of the view there would be significant benefits to a statutory scheme as legislation would provide structure, permanence and consistency in the determination of applications.

The commission said that from its research to date, a compelling argument could be made for “a full redesign” of the system and a new body to run it that is properly and consistently funded and staffed.

It said it will also be key for there to be “minimal procedural hurdles” and that it be operated compassionately, in a way that is sensitive to victims’ trauma throughout the application process.

The commission has also suggested a variety of ways in which funding could be contributed, such as through court fines and the allocation of money forfeited to the State as the proceeds of crime.

As far back as 2005, the commission recommended the court poor box system be replaced with a statutory reparation fund. “Even part-funding from such sources would incorporate a symbolic element of compensation and reparation,” it said.

Under the scheme, compensation is paid for special damages and quantifiable out-of-pocket expenses such as medical costs and loss of earnings.

In its paper, the commission was critical of revisions made last year that mean the payment of general damages, recompense for non-financial losses such as pain and suffering, apply only in fatal cases.

It questioned the justifiability of this approach in light of Ireland’s international obligations on victim compensation.

At present, victims must apply to the tribunal within three months of the criminal incident. However, in cases where an offender is identified and is the subject of criminal proceedings, the tribunal’s practice is to withhold a decision on the victim’s claim, pending the finalisation of the criminal proceedings.

The commission questioned if there are valid reasons to await the conclusion of court proceedings before a decision is made on an application for compensation.

It said where serious injuries have been sustained and where there is no question they have been criminally inflicted, delaying compensation while parallel proceedings are ongoing can cause undue hardship to victims.

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