Lawyer backs crime compensation changes
Compensation for crime victims will be speeded up if changes are made to the body responsible for payments, an island lawyer said yesterday.
Cristen Suess, of law firm Wakefield Quin, said the proposal to replace a judge with a senior barrister as chairman of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board was “positive”.
She added: “Although the changes put forward may seem simple, the effect will be such that there will certainly be a redistribution of court resources, which I think will have an impact on reducing delays, saving time and cost.”
The Criminal Injuries (Compensation) Amendment Act 2019 was tabled in the House of Assembly last week.
The explanatory memorandum said that the amendment was “to allow for improved efficiency in carrying out the mandate of the CICB”.
Under the amendment, members of the CICB will be appointed by the Minister of Legal Affairs instead of the Governor.
The memorandum added: “It also amends the qualifications for the chairman of the CICB by changing it from a judge to a barrister and attorney with at least ten years' experience and also amends the qualifications for the deputy chairman of the CICB by requiring the barrister and attorney to have a least eight years' experience.”
It was tabled by Progressive Labour Party backbencher Neville Tyrrell.
Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General and the Minister of Legal Affairs with responsibility for the CICB, and John Rankin, the Governor, declined to comment on the Bill.
Ms Suess said that a similar approach had been taken with amendments to the Liquor Licencing Act 1974.
She added: “The shift away from boards, authorities and tribunals being inherently linked to the court from the outset demonstrates a more modern approach to streamlining the judicial process as a whole.
“The court's resources are already stretched to capacity. I would say that the proposed amendments to this legislation will contribute, substantially, to improving the efficiency of the court, which can only be a positive thing.”
Ms Suess for several years represented a man who applied to the CICB for compensation in 2015 after he was shot the year before.
The man, who asked not to be named, said last month that he had been told by the board that he was to get a payout for his injuries.
But he said that the decision would not stop legal action against the CICB and the Attorney-General for damages over the delay.
The action for damages claimed a constitutional breach of duty by the CICB and the Attorney-General by “unreasonably delaying the hearing of his application”.
It said that the man wanted a declaration that his rights had been breached and aggravated, as well as exemplary and punitive damages, “equitable compensation” and costs.
Scott Pearman, the Shadow Minister for Legal Affairs, said that the One Bermuda Alliance had “repeatedly raised concerns about the significant delays by the CICB”.
He highlighted that the Court of Appeal had criticised the board for its “serious backlog” of cases.
Mr Pearman said: “It is not immediately clear how the proposed changes to the appointment and qualification of the chair will improve delays.
“No doubt the Progressive Labour Party will explain why they think the Bill will improve matters.”
Mr Pearman added that the Bill would be discussed by the Opposition in caucus this week.