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Two years after Pati order made, Government body ‘soon’ to comply

A government body set up to compensate victims of crime has said it will “soon” comply with a public access to information order issued almost two years ago.

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Board was told by Information Commissioner Gitanjali Gutierrez in October 2019 to review its decision not to release certain records – including about its large backlog of cases – to The Royal Gazette.

Ms Gutierrez ordered its head to conduct an internal review and provide a new decision by December 12 that year – but the board has yet to comply with her decision.

The commissioner told The Royal Gazette earlier this year that the CICB – which is under investigation for possible maladministration by the Ombudsman – had “unfortunately, since January 1, 2020 … been without a chairman except for a few days”.

She said Magistrate Khamisi Tokunbo was announced as chairman in July 2020 but added: “When my office contacted him in August 2020 to comply with the outstanding order, Mr Tokunbo informed the ICO that he was no longer the chairman.”

Ms Gutierrez said last week that following the appointment of government lawyer Larissa Burgess as CICB chairwoman in May, the board had indicated it was "working towards“ issuing a decision.

New CICB chairwoman Larissa Burgess

The commissioner added: “The latest update that we received from the chairperson this week indicated that the board would be responding soon.”

The Gazette submitted its Pati request to the publicly-funded CICB in May 2019, seeking records showing its backlog of cases and minutes of its meetings.

The newspaper had previously revealed that some victims of crime who had applied for criminal injuries compensation were having to wait years for their claims to be processed.

The lawyer for a man shot in 2014 was told by the Supreme Court in October, 2018 that the CICB was “severely backlogged” and that his case had yet to be dealt with.

The board told the Court of Appeal a month later that it had 37 outstanding applications from those who had lost a loved one or been injured themselves because of a violent crime.

The stories sparked a systemic inquiry by Ombudsman Victoria Pearman into delays in hearing applications by the board.

The CICB shared some information in response to the Gazette’s Pati request in June 2019, but the newspaper was not satisfied with the extent of the disclosure, so appealed the matter to Puisne Judge Nicole Stoneham, then chairwoman of the board.

Mrs Justice Stoneham did not respond to the appeal within the six-week statutory time frame.

A review of her lack of response was conducted by Ms Gutierrez, who concluded in October 2019 that the board had failed to fulfil a “basic obligation” to respond properly to a public access to information request.

Ms Pearman said in December 2019 that her office’s investigation had highlighted serious problems at the board, including that it lacked the basic administrative and financial backing to do its job.

The Government passed legislation in March last year aimed at tackling the delays.

The House of Assembly heard that the amendment meant the board chairman would no longer have to be a Supreme Court judge, but a barrister with at least ten years experience, to ease the pressure on an overstretched judiciary.

Ms Pearman noted the changes in her 2020 annual report.

She wrote: “In our annual report 2019, we advised that the board did not have a dedicated budget for administrative infrastructure that one might expect of a modern administrative tribunal …

“During the 2020 reporting period, we were able to progress our investigation. We conducted research on best practices for administrative tribunals and looked to other jurisdictions for context.

“Our fact-finding phase in this investigation is complete and a formal report will be released once we have concluded the discussion on our findings with the CICB.“

The Ombudsman said yesterday: “We are at the stage of the process where the authority has an opportunity to comment on any findings before they are final.”

It wasn’t possible to reach Ms Burgess for comment for this article.

Former Attorney-General Michael Scott remains deputy chairman of the board and the other members are Kyjuan Brown, Panegal Chelvam, Lauren Bell and Deborah Blakeney.

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Board receives more than $350,000 annually in the Government Budget.

The Budget Book reveals that in 2020 the board did not meet at all and did not hear any claims for compensation from victims of violent crime.

It had 14 active applications, received seven new claims and paid out no financial awards.

The Royal Gazette asked the Ministry of Legal Affairs these questions on June 2 this year:

* How long was the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board without a chairman?

* When did Puisne Judge Nicole Stoneham step down as chairwoman?

* Why did Magistrate Khamisi Tokunbo have such a short tenure as chairman?

* Is the board still operating? If so, where can we find up-to-date information on its current activities/complaint handling/financial awards given out?

No response has been received to date, despite repeated follow ups.

Two Pati requests to the CICB – separate to our May 2019 Pati request – were submitted by the Gazette on September 19, 2019 and September 3, 2020 but neither received a response.

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Published September 02, 2021 at 7:53 am (Updated September 02, 2021 at 7:42 am)

Two years after Pati order made, Government body ‘soon’ to comply

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