The Government’s CICA scheme is failing to help sexual abuse survivors
I have recently been successful in reversing a decision by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA for short). In doing so, I obtained a substantial award of compensation for my client (who wishes to remain anonymous and shall be known as “Helen” for the purposes of this article).
Helen was sexually assaulted and raped as a child by her half-brother and father. She disclosed the abuse to the police on 1 April 2011 and due to delays outside of her control, criminal convictions were only secured at trial in April 2013.
She was only informed at this point by the police that she could make a claim to the CICA – a body created to award compensation to victims of violent and sexual crime. Helen therefore made a claim to the CICA on 23 April 2013. The CICA rejected her claim as it was technically three weeks outside the two year time limit which began on the date that she had initially informed the police about the abuse. She asked the CICA to reconsider their decision and provided a letter from her GP stating she had not been mentally capable of making a claim any earlier, together with a letter from the investigating police officer in the criminal case confirming his support for the claim to continue out of time. This evidence was rejected by the CICA who told her they would not change their decision and if she wanted to go further with the case, she would have to appeal and argue her case at a tribunal. The tribunal would consist of a panel of three judges, and the CICA would send one of their lawyers to argue against her. A pretty scary prospect for anyone!
Helen instructed me six weeks before the appeal hearing. It was clear from reviewing the papers that Helen had suffered a great deal because of the abuse and also the behaviour of the CICA. Her abusers did not have enough money or assets to make it possible for us to pursue them for compensation. This meant the only option for Helen was to obtain an award for compensation from the CICA. My firm felt that Helen had been treated very unfairly and agreed to help, hoping we could use Helen’s case as a test case for other survivors of abuse facing similar issues with the CICA. We agreed not to charge Helen for our work if the claim was ultimately lost.
I obtained a statement from Helen and also the investigating police officer to highlight the fact that she was not psychologically able to make a claim to the CICA within the time limit. Both of these documents were submitted to the CICA along with a bundle of documents as I prepared to attend the hearing to argue Helen’s case.
I was pleasantly surprised however to be informed a week before the hearing that the CICA had conceded and were now willing for Helen’s claim to continue out of time.
Helen was relieved by the CICA’s decision but she still was very angry at the unfair treatment she had received at the hands of the CICA and the amount of time and stress she had endured fighting them for over a year before coming to see me.
This is by no means an isolated case, as my colleagues and I at Bolt Burdon Kemp know only too well. The CICA publishes guidance and leaflets to help people claim compensation, but these discourage them from obtaining professional legal advice. They are then often rigid and inflexible in applying their guidelines, even though they can and should look at each case separately, with sympathy and with a margin of discretion in the way they interpret their guidelines.
The CICA is a scheme funded by Government. We all know that Government is on a mission to cut the amount it spends. However the CICA should be immune from this, particularly if the Government’s stated aim to help victims of abuse is to have any grounding in reality.
Further, the case workers and managers at the CICA must understand that they are dealing with very vulnerable people who have been victims of crime. All too often, survivors of abuse feel as if they are reliving what they went through in having to justify themselves due to the CICA’s heavy handed and inappropriate manner. Many of our clients may not have been believed by “authority” in the past when they first tried to disclose their abuse. The CICA compounds that by making them jump through hoops to prove what happened to them, or questioning whether they really consented to their assaults, or (as here) applying arbitrary time limits to thwart their claims. The CICA’s strict stance often means that individuals with worthy claims miss out on awards of compensation as they just feel unable to deal with how this ‘authority’ is treating them. As noted in this case, even being out of time by only three weeks is enough for the CICA to reject somebody’s claim. Survivors need to be tenacious and fearless in challenging that sort of decision.
You can find out more about Bolt Burdon Kemp’s Child Abuse team here and read some of our client’s stories here.