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Rough Justice

There are potentially two views about whether the state should itself pay compensation to victims of crime. There are those who say that it should be no part of the function of the state to embark upon an exercise in compensation in respect of something for which the state is not responsible. (The state did not commit the crimes against any particular individual). As against that, there are others who take the view that since the state is responsible for maintaining law and order (whilst not accepting that is an absolute duty, since no state if it were not completely repressive and ever prevent crime completely, and it could not prevent it completely then) that those who fall victim to crime, who may suffer terrible injuries loss as a result of crime, ought to be protected and compensated by the state (albeit that that compensation is perhaps not as generous as some would wish it to be). There is certainly a cogent argument that it is right and proper that compensation be paid by the state to victims of crime.

That has to be balanced against the conduct of those who are seeking to benefit from those compensation payments. To take an extreme example, if there were a modern day version of the Kray twins running a protection racket in a large part of London, violence would obviously be part of their stock in trade. If as a result of their activities some sort of revenge mission was undertaken by other criminals all those affected by their actions, and they were seriously injured, as a matter of commonsense and fairness one would not expect that they should be treated in the same way as "innocent" victims of crime. It is consequently entirely right and proper that there are features within the system to allow deductions based on the criminal conduct and past record and history of the person who is claiming. I do not see therefore that there should be any great issue in principle about this. Few would take serious issue with the idea that "the applicant's character as shown by his (or her) criminal convictions makes it inappropriate that a full award or any award should be made". This has hitherto been the practice of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. In the previous practice of the authority, if you had only minor conviction such as traffic violations those were unlikely to lead to any impact upon your payment at all.

However this idea of dealing with the matter fairly has now been turned completely on its head as a result of new rules. One does not have to be a complete cynic to think that the purpose of the change of rules has solely one aim in mind, which is to reduce the level of payments using the new criteria as a spurious reason to do so without openly admitted that the purpose is to cut compensation payments (whether the basis for cutting payments is fair or not). At least a change in the basis of payments which was open and upfront about its aims and justification would have the merit of frankness, if not fairness or intellectual coherence.

Instead all offences which are not spent convictions must now be taken into account, including motoring offences. The only circumstances in which they will not be taken into account is if the circumstances are "exceptional". As will have been seen in other statutory contexts many times, exceptional circumstances are difficult to demonstrate. It certainly cannot be an exceptional circumstance that the conviction (say it was a speeding conviction) had no link to the injury, because that would be the case in virtually every such instance, so that could hardly be said to be exceptional. It is likely therefore that in the vast majority of cases traffic offenders such as those caught speeding could find themselves subject to deductions from any criminal injuries compensation that otherwise be awarded to them.

Given that such offenders are already subject to effective increases in fines to fund payments to victims of crime (essentially because most violent offenders usually cannot or will not be capable of paying compensation or an appropriate fine) it seems even more grotesque that they are now to be punished again by being subject to a deduction which has absolutely nothing to do with the offence they have committed.

It is even worse that the levels of deduction will be comparable to those for hardened criminals. There is no possible logical justification for this. It is all driven by the desire to save money.

To put this into stark terms, a woman who was raped would be likely to receive some 11,000 (which most people would probably regard as an absurdly low figure in any event) as compensation for being raped. If she had committed a minor traffic offence shortly before falling victim, more than 1000 of that compensation might be denied to her. That would almost certainly feel like a second violation.

Public finances are in a completely hopeless state and economies have to be made. Where they have to be made, they should be made openly and fairly. Playing around with the rules like this is an unfair and inappropriate way to make savings. Such spurious justification merely risks a complete loss of public confidence not merely with the government, with the legal system. That is even more deplorable than the unfair rule changes themselves.

Michael J. Booth QC