Ombudsman says criminal injuries compensation claims must be dealt with faster
Action to cut long delays faced by people who apply for compensation for criminal injuries has been called for the Ombudsman.
Victoria Pearman said in a report that the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board system was inefficient, inadequate and hard to navigate for applicants who did not have a lawyer.
She said: “The length of time that an applicant has to endure to have a claim processed is very long.”
Ms Pearman added: “It is easy to overlook practical matters when looking at issues theoretically.
“On top of the trauma victims endured, the length and uncertainty of the process is an ongoing ordeal.”
She warned that the delays in the process had left people “in limbo” as they struggled to return to normal life.
Ms Pearman explained “Problems with delay are not just about the money. The longer the process takes, the longer people have to wait for an outcome.
“Their personal life continues to be impacted and the delay hinders them from moving on with their lives.
“After an initial application, nothing is heard for a long time and then you wait and wait while reliving the whole incident.”
Ms Pearman said: “Those familiar with access to justice issues understand that our courts are backlogged, our administrative agencies are overworked and the legal system in general is not a perfect model for settling grievances.
“However, the experiences of those filing applications with the board consistently fail to meet a reasonable person’s expectation of efficient.”
The report added that the Ministry of Legal Affairs and Constitutional Reform should take responsibility and help the board make the changes needed to improve the system.
Ms Pearman, a barrister, said: “The ministry is responsible for the board. It must uphold this responsibility by providing the resources, some of which it may already have available to it, for the board to carry out its important work.”
“Fairness requires that the ministry and board take responsibility to address matters identified for change.
“Fairness also requires that the board should not be criticised for things outside its control.”
Ms Pearman added: “As we reach the end of this process, we strongly encourage the Ministry of Legal Affairs and Constitutional Reform to take the necessary steps to provide for those who have suffered.”
The island’s criminal injury compensation system has come under fire in recent years from people forced to wait sometimes years for payouts.
One man, a former construction worker, told The Royal Gazette he had made a claim for compensation for a gunshot wound in 2015, but did not get a hearing by the CICB until October 2019.
The Government later passed legislation designed to speed up the process by the removal of the need for a judge to sit on the panel, instead requiring only a senior lawyer.
Ms Pearman’s report highlighted that an administrator was assigned to assist the board in 2019 – a time when there was a “substantial backlog” of applications.
The administrator said the backlog had been dealt with by February 2020, but with a larger number of applications the board would need a permanent administrator and meeting space.
Ms Pearman added that a lack of understanding of the procedures had caused applicants to present incomplete or inaccurate information, which led to further delays.
She said that medical evidence of injuries had been a problem for some people as most did not know what doctors’ records were needed.
Ms Pearman added: “Applicants would be assisted if there was guidance provided by the board with the assistance of the doctors on the board so that applicants and physicians would know what was required.
She said the board should also bring other “obvious issues” to the attention of applicants, particularly those who are not represented by a lawyer, so that they can be addressed.
Ms Pearman added that a website with information about the board and its work would help applicants and make sure they knew what needed to be done for a successful application.
She said that there was no regular venue for the tribunal and proceedings were generally not recorded.
Ms Pearman suggested that the ministry should look at other tribunals to find ways the board could share personnel, buildings and policies.
She said a permanent staff member should be assigned to the board to give administrative support.
Ms Pearman added that an administrator could help to update policies, review the board’s legislation, make information available to assist applicants and carry out a preliminary review of applications.