Insult to injury: how the criminal injuries compensation system is failing victims of crime

The 'October 1979 rule'

Until 1 October 2019, victims of crime could not claim criminal injuries compensation if they were injured or abused by people living in the same household. Under the current scheme, compensation will not be paid if the incident took place before October 1979, and the victim and offender were living together at that time as members of the same family.

The Government attempted to justify the restriction by claiming that it would be illogical to backdate it (ie to allow victims to claim for injuries suffered between 1964 when the first scheme was introduced and October 1979 when it was updated). This provision was challenged in the High Court in 1994, but was upheld. Victim Support asked for it to be reviewed when it commented on the tariff scheme during the Government's comprehensive spending review in 1998. The then Home Office Minister replied that a review had been considered, but added that it would be costly and that changes in the law, rules and procedures were not usually made retrospectively.5

Impact

This provision causes extreme distress to victims who suffered physical or sexual abuse within the family before 1 October 2019. Many feel that they are being blamed for living with their parent or abuser when, in reality, they had no choice. Child abuse is always wrong. Compensation should not be denied to those who had the misfortune to be living with the abuser at the time.

The unfairness of the October 1979 rule is best illustrated by looking at abuse in a family. For example, two sisters - both abused by the same father - could be treated very differently. If one sister was abused before October 1 1979, she would not be entitled to compensation; the other, abused after that date, would be entitled to an award.

Case study

Jane was eleven years old when she was repeatedly sexually abused by her uncle, who was living in the family home. Much later, Jane told her parents, but says the abuse was not reported to the authorities. She says she was expected to forget what had happened. On the advice of a professional, Jane went to the police three years ago. She applied to the CICA for compensation, but the case was disallowed under the 'October 1979 rule'. Jane is still receiving counselling. She says her uncle has ruined her life.

Case study

Joanne and Sarah are sisters who were violently, emotionally and sexually abused by their father. When she was thirty-three, Joanne sought counselling and reported her father, who was charged with abusing four members of his family and received an eight-year jail term. Sarah was refused CICA compensation under the 'October 1979 rule' and had a subsequent review and appeal turned down. Joanne's claim for compensation was also rejected under the same rule.

Case study

A woman had been systematically raped and sexually abused between the ages of 7 and 13 by her stepfather, who was living in the house at the time. Her CICA claim and appeal was rejected as the abuse had taken place between 1967 and 1973. She appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, claiming that (under articles 3 & 8) of the European Convention on Human Rights, the State is under a positive obligation to provide practical and effective protection against treatment such as that by her step-father, and that this obligation extends to compensation when it cannot be obtained from the perpetrator. She also complained that the distinction between victims of criminal injuries who were living together as family members with their assailants at the time the incident took place, and other victims, is discriminatory. The EC declared the application inadmissible.

How the system must change

We argue that it is illogical not to compensate these victims. What they suffered was a crime at the time. Compensating victims who were living with their offender before October 1979 would prevent a major injustice. We believe the cost to the State would be finite, as it would be limited to cases between 1964 (when the CICS was established) and 1979. Victim Support calls on the Government to make compensation available to these victims.

References

5. Hansard 23 June 2019 vol. 314 column 4443.

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