Important changes to the 2012 Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority Scheme now published

A short review of the impact new Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority time limit rules will have for sexual abuse victims

In the light of the Jimmy Savile revelations, the issue of bringing a compensation claim for sexual abuse outside the usual limitation periods is highly topical. It’s likely that some of Savile’s victims will face a major hurdle in bringing a civil claim for damages against his estate on the basis that the abuse occurred many years ago. They may therefore opt instead for making a claim under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) scheme where the operative time limits are different.

For some time, the precise position concerning child victims of sexual abuse under the CICA scheme has been uncertain. The 2012 scheme has however now published clearer guidance. Of crucial significance is confirmation that the usual 2 year time limit does not apply to children under the age of 18.

The CICA limitation clock normally starts to run from the date the incident was reported. But under the latest rules (as at March 2013) a child victim has until their 20th birthday to make a CICA claim, irrespective of whether the matter had been reported to the police beforehand. This rule has important implications for child victims of sexual abuse. Previously, if the matter had been reported but the victim then failed to bring their claim within the two year period, the time limit would have expired and they would have to rely on the scheme’s discretion. The new rules mean that even if the case had been reported at the time, provided no-one had made a claim on the child’s behalf, a claim can still be launched provided it is made before the victim turns 20.

For claimants outside the 18 plus 2 rule the CICA may still entertain a claim. Historically, in cases relating to sexual abuse, the CICA has generally been willing to exercise its discretion; time limits being a matter for the CICA’s internal operational guide, as opposed to being part of their published Scheme.

For claimants who have missed the deadline we need to look carefully at the wording of the CICA Scheme. Paragraph 18 of the Scheme states,

An application for compensation under this Scheme in respect of a criminal injury must be made in writing on a form, obtainable from the Authority. It should be made as soon as possible after the incident giving rise to the injury and must be received by the Authority within two years of the date of the incident. A claims officer may waive this time limit only where he or she considers that:

a) it is practicable for the application to be considered; and

b) in the particular circumstances of the case, it would not have been reasonable to expect the applicant to have made an application within the two year period”.

Under the previous CICA scheme, the final paragraph differed. The 2001 Scheme included the wording,

A claims officer may waive this time limit where he considers that, by reason of the particular circumstances of the case, it is reasonable and in the interests of justice to do so.”

The current scheme is much narrower in scope. In particular the use of the word `reasonable’ seems to be confined to the applicant’s reasons for not making an application within the two year time limit. This contrasts with the old test of “reasonable and in the interests of justice” which confers a much wider discretionary power. There is now a subjective element which places a greater emphasis on the behaviour of the applicant in bringing their claim out of time, rather than an objective test of what is fair.

Of crucial significance in sexual abuse cases brought beyond the standard time limits is the production of solid evidence that the alleged incidents have indeed occurred. This may take the form of a certificate of conviction, court transcripts, criminal statements, medical, police and social services records. Precise reasons are also needed to account for the delay, backed up by a statement and possibly medical evidence to explain why the application has not been made in time.

For adult victims of childhood abuse bringing claims beyond their 20th birthday it is often difficult to know whether the CICA will entertain their application or reject it at the outset, as currently there is no coherent approach by the CICA. Seeking specialist legal advice on this issue as early as possible is always recommended. Whilst the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority often encourage applicants to represent themselves, complex cases involving sexual abuse (which are potentially high value claims) generally benefit from specialist professional legal advice and its important to seek that advice quickly in view of the difficulties presented by these time limits.

If you are considering an application to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority and you need FREE initial advice on a confidential, no obligation basis please contact our specialist abuse team on Freephone 0808 139 1597 or by email.