The Law Reform Commission has questioned whether non-payment of compensation for pain and suffering under a State scheme for victims of violent crime is in line with Ireland’s international and EU law obligations.
The existing scheme pays special damages such as for medical costs and loss of earnings, but only awards general damages – compensation for non-financial loss, pain and suffering – in non-fatal cases.
The commission has raised issues about their exclusion in a Compensating Victims of Crime consultation paper published on Wednesday.
It says a “compelling argument” can be made for a “full redesign” of the existing compensation scheme and for a new body to administer it.
It has invited submissions on such a scheme, including whether a National Victims Office is required to provide compensation and/or specialised support services in a “co-ordinated and cohesive way”.
After the 10-week consultation process, the commission, chaired by former Supreme Court judge, Ms Justice Mary Laffoy, will finalise a report on the compensation issue and set out law reform recommendations.
Under the existing non-statutory scheme, administered by the Department of Justice, decisions on compensation are made by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal.
According to the commission, the current scheme involves “lengthy delays, bureaucratic hurdles and procedural obstacles” and “can actually compound the stress and anguish that victims experience”.
Its concerns include a “lack of clarity and consistency” in relation to the tribunal’s discretion in interpreting who is and who is not eligible for the scheme.
It is particularly concerned about “overly broad and vague” criteria under which victims may be excluded based on conduct, character or way of life.
The respectful treatment of victims “is of the greatest importance” and the tribunal’s procedures should maximise fairness and transparency, it stresses.
Small, inexpensive changes to the tribunal’s “bureaucratic” procedures could better assist reparation for victims, such as sending a letter or email “acknowledging their experience with empathy and compassion and expressing solidarity with them on behalf of the Irish people”.
‘Statement of purpose’
There are “significant benefits” to a statutory scheme, it says, for reasons including the need for “a clear statement of purpose and guiding principles” such as reparation, compensation as of right, acknowledgement and solidarity, and minimisation of secondary victimisation.
The commission asks whether the scheme should continue to be administered by the Department of Justice, located within the Personal Injuries Assessment Board or the State Claims Agency or if a specialist criminal injuries compensation body should be established.
It says the fact the scheme is a cash-limited grant scheme with an annual budget presents problems because, if the budget is spent before the end of the year, victims have to wait for the next allocation.
It suggests that even a part-funding of the scheme from sources including court fines, proceeds of crime seizures and an offender levy would incorporate “a symbolic element of compensation and reparation”. It also asks whether a reformed scheme should include non-monetary supports, such as access to counselling or training, as well as compensation awards.
Views on the paper can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org until April 19th. A full version is available at www.lawreform.ie