Victims and Witnesses Strategy

Oral Answers to Questions — Communities and Local Government – in the House of Commons at 3:32 pm on 30th January 2012.

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Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice 3:32 pm, 30th January 2012

Today I have laid before Parliament a consultation on far-reaching plans to improve the way our criminal justice system deals with victims of crime. Proper protection and support for those who have suffered at the hands of criminals is a fundamental part of a civilised justice system, yet ours is falling short in some respects. Victims of crime should be able to rely on justice that is not only swift and sure, punishing offenders properly, but intelligent and effective. That means, among other things, a system that promotes reparation, requiring criminals to make amends to victims and society for the wrongs that have been done, and a system in which compensation is focused on serious cases and is not available to those who have themselves committed crime. Current arrangements do not always measure up well against those ideals.

There has been a good deal of criticism recently about the experiences of victims in the aftermath of a crime. For one reason or another, a consistently high standard of victims’ services is not available all over the country. The Government have a responsibility to ensure that practical and emotional support to help victims recover from the consequences of crime is provided when required. Of course, high-quality counselling and practical support costs money and perpetrators of crime should, wherever possible, contribute to the costs instead of taxpayers having to pick up the entire bill.

The process of justice, as experienced by the victim, also needs to improve. Investigation and trial involve inevitable stresses, but it is unacceptable that victims still frequently report being told too little, too late about the progress of their case, or being expected in court to sit next to the families of offenders. It adds insult to injury that, if something goes wrong in the process, victims have to choose between 14 different routes of complaint. Victims have already been badly hurt by crime. The system should not be rubbing salt into the wounds.

Finally, in this list of matters that we are addressing, there is compensation. In my view, no amount of money can make up for the injury or emotional trauma that often results from a crime. The criminal injuries compensation scheme, since it was set up in 1964 and then reformed in 1996, has offered a measure of support from the taxpayer to victims of crime. Successive previous Governments, almost from the first, have never been able to ensure that the scheme has been properly funded, and this has had the wholly undesirable consequence whereby claimants can wait months and, in some cases, years for the process to run its course and payments to arrive. Meanwhile, millions of pounds have been spent compensating people for minor injuries such as sprained ankles and broken fingers. Even more perverse is the fact that over the past decade more than £75 million has been paid in compensation to 20,000 claimants who are themselves convicted criminals. It is no surprise that the scheme, in its current form, is not sustainable.

The consultation published today seeks views on a set of reforms to deliver a more proportionate, speedy and effective system to provide for the needs of victims of crime. I want to see a system that prioritises high-quality practical help to people in the aftermath of the crime, whereby we sort out compensation so that it is targeted at the most serious cases, and whereby criminals contribute to the costs of victims’ services, instead of being able to make claims as if they were blameless, law-abiding victims of crime themselves.

I propose therefore that we will introduce a new victims code, so that victims know what to expect during the investigation and trial process, and know where to turn when things go wrong; we will set out plans to make improvements to the practical and emotional support available to victims, raising up to £50 million from the perpetrators of crime through the victims surcharge and financial penalties; we will move decisions about local priorities for most victims’ services away from Whitehall, so that the vast majority of funding is in the hands of democratically accountable police and crime commissioners; and we will reform the criminal injuries compensation scheme, so that it is sustainable in the long term.

Compensation should be focused on those with serious injuries that have long-term or permanent consequences. We propose therefore that the top 13 bands—more than half the tariff bands—covering the most serious injuries continue to be compensated at the current level. We will also protect tariff awards at lower levels, if necessary, for the families of homicide victims, and awards for sexual crimes or persistent physical abuse.

In order to offer that protection, and to fund the scheme sustainably, we propose to reduce or remove awards for those with less grave injuries. Injuries such as sprained ankles, broken toes or bruised ribs, from which people tend to recover fairly quickly, will no longer be covered at all. In a further step, those who have committed crimes against others and have unspent criminal convictions will, in most cases, no longer be eligible to seek taxpayer compensation when others commit crimes against them.

The overall ambition of the changes is that total spending levels on victims—compensation, counselling and support—should remain the same. However, I believe that the proposals we are consulting on today will mean that finite funding is used more wisely. Instead of compensation going to those with less serious injuries and to those who have broken the law, it will be targeted where it counts most—on the most serious injuries. The support services, which many victims need as much as or more than compensation, will be available when required, paid for as far as possible by offenders and not by the taxpayer.

For families bereaved by homicide and those affected by serious violent and sexual crimes, the reforms will move compensation on to a sustainable footing and at the same time improve the quality and availability of practical support and advice. This constitutes intelligent, radical reform to sort out a system that is not working well and it will give a better deal to victims.

I wish to make good on the previous Government’s commitment—on which we agreed—to compensate victims of overseas terrorism. I believe that it is important that British victims of terrorist attacks abroad should in future qualify for compensation on a similar basis to victims of domestic terrorism. From April, we will make ex gratia payments to victims of past incidents, going back to 2002, on the basis of the current CICS tariff, as the previous Government proposed. I recognise the concern that was caused by the delay in confirming the details of these schemes and I thank all those who waited patiently for the announcement while the detail was being worked out.

Despite improvements introduced by successive Governments, victims still too often feel let down by the criminal justice system, yet they are the people to whom we have the greatest responsibility. Their needs should be dealt with sensitively, proportionately and promptly. I believe that the proposals that we are setting out today will ensure that victims’ services are on a more sensible and sustainable footing, and will go a long way to putting right the failings of the past. I commend the statement to the House.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Secretary of State for Justice 3:41 pm, 30th January 2012

First, I thank the Justice Secretary for his usual courtesy in giving me advance sight of the statement, albeit a much-delayed statement that it has taken the Government 20 months to draft.

Our attitude towards victims should always be at the top of our priority list. Quite simply, without victims and witnesses there would be no justice system. Without victims having confidence that our justice system will effectively punish and reform offenders, fewer would report crimes or come forward with evidence as witnesses. That is one reason why we have a basic duty to treat victims of crime and witnesses with the dignity that they deserve.

Sometimes it is the little things that make a big difference, such as ensuring that victims and witnesses have court proceedings explained to them, so that they understand how the trial is progressing. However, sometimes it is the bigger things that matter, such as giving them the support that they need to recover from the trauma of a crime, or ensuring that sentencing is transparent and fair in delivering effective punishment. Many of those things do not cost anything.

As a result of Labour’s record on crime, there were 7 million fewer crimes a year by the time we left government in 2010 than in 1997. There were therefore countless fewer victims of crime. That is the most sure-fire way in which we can help. We must have policies backed up by adequate resources to ensure that people do not become victims in the first place.

This Government’s policy on law and order is all over the place. The way they treat victims of crime is a prime example. Over the past 20 months, their policies on bail, sentencing, the chief coroner, domestic violence and rape have shown them to be out of touch with victims of crime in this country.

I welcome the fact that, after nearly three years in government, in April 2013 the Justice Secretary will finally honour the commitment to compensate innocent victims of overseas terrorism. However, the time that it has taken to come to that decision, despite cross-party support, is shameful. Will he confirm that the funds for that policy will not come from the resources destined for victims of crime in this country?

On the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, the Justice Secretary focused on the £75 million that has been paid to those with unspent convictions, which was just 3% of the total over the past 10 years. Will he confirm that there will be no further cuts to the CICA budget?

I put it on the record that we continue to support the victims surcharge, which was introduced by the previous Government and under which offenders work and pay towards victims’ services and victims. Will the Justice Secretary assure the House that none of the services that are funded by the surcharge will face cuts because of the additional surcharge that he referred to, which will go to the CICA?

As well as presiding over a 43% reduction in crime, Labour sought to improve the experience of victims in the justice system. To be fair, the 98-page White Paper lists some of the advances made over the 13 years of a Labour Government. I am already on record as saying that Labour would commit to working with victims groups and the Government to introduce a victims law so that the rights of the bereaved families of homicide victims were honoured, and I am pleased that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has announced a victims code today. I am pleased also that he has taken on board the announcement that I made at the Labour party conference—I have no problems with his stealing our ideas, I just hope that he will go the whole distance and ensure that the code is enshrined in statute and not just another unenforceable and ignored code of practice.

We have a duty to support victims through all stages of the process, and today’s strategy will be judged against that duty. My fear is about whether the Government will be able to deliver the justice that victims in this country deserve, bearing in mind their record over the past 20 months. I hope that I am wrong.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

The right hon. Gentleman first touched on the arguments that we have been having on a wide range of other justice and sentencing issues, and on one or two subjects on which I was not aware that we had any differences on policy. The fact that he started on that basis rather led me to believe that he was not really very opposed to a great deal of what we have put forward in our consultation document.

I shall deal with the right hon. Gentleman’s specific questions. We are able to go ahead with terrorism compensation. I quite accept that it has taken some time since it was announced, and supported by us, during the time of the previous Government. We are putting it on exactly the same basis as the domestic CICS, and the time has been taken up getting the details of that scheme right. The domestic compensation scheme was left to us with an enormous financial deficit, and we are striving to make it sustainable and financeable, I hope without significant further change, in a way that it has never really been since it was first introduced back in the 1960s.

The right hon. Gentleman asked whether I could guarantee that there would be no further reductions in criminal injuries compensation. As I have just said, I very much hope there will not be. The scheme was set up in 1964 and ran into financial difficulties almost straight away. It was altered in 1996, and the last Government kept consulting on it but not doing very much. By one measure, when I took over from my predecessor there was an unfunded deficit of £750 million. We have had to find a lot of extra money from the

Treasury to deal with unfunded pre-tariff liabilities, and we are trying to put the matter on a set footing for the future.

The victims surcharge will be raised in a fairer way, and I do not think there is any question of any cuts being made. At the moment the surcharge is levied only on those who pay fines. It is fair that it should be levied also on those who go to prison or serve community sentences, and that is how we are changing it. We hope to get a substantially bigger contribution from those who commit a crime, to compensate the people who have suffered from it.

As we move the detail of the current services to local responsibility and to the new police and crime commissioners, we will still provide specialist services for bereaved families nationally. We have put extra money into that, and into specialist groups, on Louise Casey’s recommendation, but we will not reduce the support for Victim Support. Support will be provided more locally and sensitively by the commissioners, who will have to build up partnerships with a lot of local agencies. We have of course done such things as putting extra money into rape support centres to open some new ones and give the current ones long-term funding security for the first time.

I concede that the last Government made considerable improvements on victims and witnesses during their term of office. Awareness of the inadequacies of how the criminal justice system dealt with victims and witnesses began to grow in the ’80s and ’90s, and it has been a fairly continuous process from the early 1990s onwards. However, we are making a significant step forward. As I said when I began my reply, I believe that the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends will find it quite difficult to find very much with which they disagree.

Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry Conservative, Broxtowe

I agree with and support today’s announcement of these reforms, but does the Lord Chancellor agree that nothing in them will stop the victims of crime receiving compensation directly from the offender when sentence is passed? Some would say that that is at the very heart of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which is currently going through the other place.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

We are seeking to make it more of an obligation on the court to consider making a compensation order for the victim when they appear for a crime. We are also trying to address ways in which we can improve the collection of that compensation so it can be paid over. My hon. Friend touches on what ought to be a key feature of the justice system, and one that needs to be improved.

Photo of Keith Vaz Keith Vaz Chair, Home Affairs Committee, Chair, Home Affairs Committee

Six months on from the riots last August, only 42 people have received compensation under the Riot (Damages) Act 1886. The Home Affairs Committee report suggests that there should be a review of the victims surcharge. Is that part of the Lord Chancellor’s strategy? Does he agree that compensation should go directly to the victim rather than to a general fund?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

The victims surcharge has always been separate from orders for compensation for victims—or at least it has for a long time. Either way, as I have explained, we are hoping to get more from the victims surcharge to give more money to victim support services in general across the country, because there are still deficiencies in them. I think we are all agreed that it is a very good idea that courts should make compensation orders for the victims of crime.

We hope that that will be done more often as a matter of course in court, but it depends on the defendant’s means, so we must look at how the court gets better information on the assets available to pay for such things. That will come later as we work on the proposals. We must also improve the recoverability of compensation orders. We all believe that we should cover more by way of fines, compensation orders and so on, and that that steadily improves. The difficulty is that a large number of people before the court either do not have much money or will not co-operate in recovering it. As for all creditors recovering money from extremely reluctant and feckless debtors, it is difficult for us to raise that money, but we hope to have the assistance and advice of the Home Affairs Committee from time to time on how we might improve that record.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

Can I clarify with the Secretary of State whether a mass murderer in prison will be entitled to compensation if they are beaten up by another prisoner?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

There is a discretionary element in the current system so that a very bad criminal record can be taken into account. At least one mass murderer did not get compensation for an injury in prison. My answer to the question is no, he certainly should not get compensation. We are going much further; it is simply not right for someone one week to commit a crime against another member of the public, and the next week to say that the taxpayer must compensate him because somebody has committed a crime against him. There may be exceptions to that on the fringes, but we must go much further even in the straightforward case that my hon. Friend describes.

Photo of Paul Goggins Paul Goggins Labour, Wythenshawe and Sale East

I commend the Secretary of State for his statement, but what does he propose to do in cases—including a recent one in my constituency, to which I drew his attention—when an offender commits a serious offence and receives a community sentence, but then, via Facebook or other social media, claims to have got away with it, adding insult to injury for the victim? Will he consider a power of recall to the court so that such offenders can be held to account?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I will consider it. Such situations are extremely irritating, and in extreme cases could be contempt of court, but as the right hon. Gentleman knows, no one has ever found a way to deal with them. There always will be cases when some miscreant leaves court and celebrates too vigorously the fact that he has not lost his liberty or in some other way. If he starts adding insult to the court or his victims, something should be done to find a way of dealing with him under the rules of contempt of court.

Photo of Tom Brake Tom Brake Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington

I welcome the Secretary of State’s statement and the proposals, particularly on requiring offenders to pay more to compensate victims and on providing compensation to

UK victims of terrorism abroad. On UK victims of crimes abroad, will the Secretary of State agree to meet a cross-party group of MPs to look at the issue of people who are victims of serious crimes of another nature, such as serious assault?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

It would be very nice to do that, but that is the history of this scheme from the start, which is why the aspirations of Parliament and Government have always run rather ahead of the available funding. I would like to compensate people with broken fingers or sprained ankles, but that would get us into arrears and months and years of delay before anyone could be paid. We have to concentrate on the most serious cases. As far as people abroad are concerned, all kinds of nasty things can happen abroad, although we hope that they usually do not. People can have all sorts of crimes committed against them or catch all sorts of peculiar diseases, but we have to bear in mind that British taxpayers’ obligation to compensate in such cases has to be limited to a certain extent.

On terrorism, the case has always been that it cannot be insured against, and that is why everybody has agreed that the taxpayer should compensate in such cases. I would be reluctant to accede more readily to going further and adding yet more people whom the British taxpayer has to compensate for unfortunate experiences in Africa.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales), Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Constitution), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The victims code is most welcome, although not as novel as one might think. I seem to have heard about it a few times before. How will delivery of the service uniformly across England, Wales and Scotland be affected by the fact that the Lord Chancellor has closed down 40% of the court venues, that police numbers are falling and that thousands of court staff have been made redundant?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

The victims code has been steadily improved over the years—it is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to be a little sarcastic about it; it has been renamed—and we intend to improve on that. Sadiq Khan says that he will make it a victims law, but it is the same thing. The one reason for not putting it on a statutory footing is that we are waiting to see what comes out of the European victims directive, which we have opted into, so that we can clarify the legal obligations. We will improve the service, and it has nothing to do with the closure of under-used courts in various parts of the country.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland Conservative, South Swindon

One of the problems that my right hon. and learned Friend referred to with the criminal injuries compensation scheme has been delay. The backlog reached a high of 85,000 cases a few years ago under the previous Government, although the figure is coming down. What effect will these proposals have on reducing the appalling delays that victims of crime are suffering?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I am glad to say that the figure is coming down, but delay is the most serious symptom of the underlying failing of the system. For as long as I can remember, we have had deficits in the funding and an inevitable delay in payments because they cannot be funded. Every year, the Home Office previously and now the Ministry of Justice has had to find more money to put into the scheme to try to keep ahead of the claims. A realistic attempt to concentrate the funding on the most serious offences that have lasting or permanent consequences should enable us to pay those people more promptly, rather than paying quite as many people as we do at present for a wide range of injuries.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

There are many people who are victims of crime, but no prosecution follows because they are victims of racist harassment, neighbourhood terrorism or domestic violence. There is a problem of getting independent witnesses and therefore getting a prosecution. Within the context of the reforms, is the Secretary of State prepared to consider enhanced funding and support for professional witness schemes so that we can bring about a greater sense of safety for those people who are suffering serious racist harassment in our society?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

One of the things that we are consulting on—we have not mentioned it much, but anything we can do would be valuable—is increased support for witnesses. It has got better in recent years, but support to enable witnesses to find the experience a little less intimidating than they otherwise might, and to explain to them the process through which they will go, is always valuable and needs to be improved. As far as people who are victims of crimes about which they do not complain or which have not led to a prosecution, we have considered that and are issuing a consultation document. But the underlying rule of the scheme has always been that, in order to get compensation, people must be prepared to co-operate with the police and the prosecutors to get the crime dealt with, and we have to keep that. We have dealt specially with repeated physical violence, and that is meant to address domestic violence and some of the other cases to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Photo of Nicholas Boles Nicholas Boles Conservative, Grantham and Stamford

I welcome the Lord Chancellor’s statement, but does he understand that my constituent Trevor Lakin can never be compensated for the loss of his son Jeremy in the Sharm el Sheikh attack? He has been fighting for years for compensation for the sake of such people as Will Pike, who survived an attack in Mumbai. Will Pike is trying to rebuild his life and needs help from the Government to do so.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I agree with my hon. Friend, who has campaigned consistently on the issue since arriving in the House. Nothing can ever compensate people who suffer severe consequences or bereavement as the result of a serious crime, which is why the scheme has always aimed only to make a contribution towards easing the financial problems that such victims suffer. In the case of overseas terrorism, we are moving as we are and in future the direct victims of overseas terrorism will be able to receive compensation on the same basis as on the domestic scene. We are still imposing some limitations on claims by family and so on, but this is an enormous advance on the previous situation in which nothing was being done, as all parties agreed in the last Parliament that it should.

Photo of Ann Coffey Ann Coffey Labour, Stockport

It cannot be right that children who have suffered sexual exploitation by multiple perpetrators then have to endure days of aggressive questioning by defence lawyers in court. What does the Secretary of State propose to do to support child victims giving evidence in court and make it a less distressing experience for them?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

In the consultation document we address vulnerable witnesses, who often include children, particularly those whose evidence involves fairly traumatic events. There are arrangements now, of course: it is no longer necessarily the case that such children are exposed to open court. A certain amount of judicial discretion must be left, but in suitable cases video evidence and so on are now obtained. I hope that the consultation document will enable us to see what more can be done to ensure, first, that justice is done, but justice is best done when witnesses give evidence in the most suitable and justifiable circumstances. One cannot shield an adult from cross-examination, but one can certainly shield someone as vulnerable as a child of the kind that the hon. Lady described.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

It is fair to say that the Secretary of State and I have not always seen eye to eye on criminal justice matters, so it is a rare treat to be able to congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his proposals for preventing criminals from accessing the criminal injuries compensation scheme. What assessment has he made of whether the proposal will meet the requirement of the Human Rights Act 1998, or indeed his beloved European convention on human rights? If it falls foul of them, what does he propose to do at that stage?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

It is a rare treat for me as well to find myself agreeing with my hon. Friend. Who knows where it might lead? It might not lead to instant agreement on the Human Rights Act, but I see no jeopardy to the proposals in the consultation paper from any claims under the Act. I look forward to continuing to have interesting debates with him about the subject on other occasions.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Shadow Minister (Education)

The Secretary of State used the example of millions of pounds being spent on compensation for sprained ankles and broken fingers, but he did not use the example that he used in the press of someone gaining compensation for being hit over the head with a bunch of flowers and the psychological damage caused. Will he outline to the House the details of that case, in the same way that he required the Home Secretary to outline the details of the cat in the immigration case?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

The hon. Gentleman will notice that I did not use that example. [ Interruption. ] No, I have not. I might be quoted as having used that example, but I have not. He asked why I did not. I would like to make careful inquiries about exactly where that well-known case actually occurred, and what the precise circumstances were.

Photo of Bob Stewart Bob Stewart Conservative, Beckenham

On Friday, I was told by a constituent whose family were about to go to appeal court—they were victims, of course—that they were absolutely terrified of giving evidence again. The Secretary of State has said that there is no way to protect people giving evidence from cross-examination, but is there any system whereby these people, who are often very frightened when attending court, could be protected?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Nowadays, victim support officers will talk to witnesses before they attend court, and it is possible for witnesses to be shown the court beforehand—certainly they will be taken through the process that they can expect to be followed. It is essential to the rules of justice, however, that evidence be properly tested. If we are to deal severely with criminals, we have to ensure that the person convicted actually committed the offence. It is right, therefore, that he—or, better, his representatives—has the opportunity to test the evidence against him if he maintains his innocence. Judges have powers to intervene if the questioning becomes offensive or irrelevant, but in the light of recent cases we are considering how to strengthen those powers so that offenders do not gratuitously add insult to their offence. It is difficult, however, because one can treat an offender with proper severity only once he has had every opportunity to maintain his innocence and the court has found that he is lying and guilty.

Photo of Ian Lucas Ian Lucas Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Following the question from Philip Davies, may I ask whether the Government have specifically considered whether convicted criminals excluded from an application under the scheme could take their case to the European Court of Human Rights? This is a legitimate point.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

We must ensure that the approach is proportionate and the circumstances appropriate. The hon. Gentleman, who raises a perfectly serious point, will see his question canvassed in the consultation document. It is not for me to suggest circumstances in which difficulties might arise. However, if someone was convicted for shop lifting and then, a year or two later, was the victim of an extremely serious assault in unrelated circumstances, that might be an exceptional case. If someone with a previous conviction has got themselves injured intervening to protect another victim from another crime, that, too, might be an exceptional case. I do not want to sketch out all the exceptional cases, however, because there would not be many of them. Nevertheless, I think that we can protect ourselves against challenge as long as it is possible to consider those cases. However, the bulk of criminals should not be entitled to payment from the taxpayer when they are victims of crime themselves.

Photo of David Nuttall David Nuttall Conservative, Bury North

The current maximum award available under the criminal injuries compensation scheme to the most seriously injured victims of crime is much less than they would receive from a civil law claim for damages. Do the plans contain any proposals to remedy this problem?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

That was the problem when the scheme was first set up—I remember wrestling with it 20 years ago. At that point, we had slipped into a situation in which a compensation claim was assessed as though it was a personal injuries claim in a civil court, which meant that every case took ages to litigate, lots of lawyers would turn up to make representations on the basis of large numbers of medical reports, and the costs soared. Everybody accepted that this was completely unsustainable. The compensation scheme for criminal injuries is not meant to be full compensation; it is meant to be a contribution towards covering the financial consequences of the injury. As I said earlier, it would be nice if the taxpayer could pay everybody full compensation as if it were a civil award, but frankly that was never practicable from the moment it started, and it certainly is not affordable now.

Photo of Tony Lloyd Tony Lloyd Labour, Manchester Central

May I return to the question about delays? Certainly for victims of serious crime—either threats of violence or violence itself—delays in the investigation and delays by the Crown Prosecution Service and in the court process simply add to the menace that victims suffer. The Secretary of State has made some suggestions on how to proceed, but will he assure us that this matter will be a key consideration when drawing conclusions from the consultation? Of all the matters I have dealt with, perhaps the most harrowing involve those who live in fear, suffering a sentence while those awaiting trial are free on the outside.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Most of the delays that I have been talking about are delays in payment of criminal injuries compensation, but I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is just as important that we do something about delays in the criminal justice system. We must improve the efficiencies of the court, avoid wasting as much time as is wasted currently, and so on. Together with the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, my right hon. Friend Nick Herbert, we are working on ways of improving the efficiencies of the court so that the more straightforward cases can be dealt with more promptly and those that are contested are handled more efficiently, to everybody’s advantage, including in terms of court costs, police costs, and everything else. Our system does not have as many delays as some of the worst in western Europe, but if someone is staying in custody for too long before they can get a trial, it is bad for justice. However, I agree that the biggest complaint we usually get from laymen in criminal cases that have gone slightly wrong is that it has taken too long to get to court and that there have been several abortive appearances that wasted their time before the case finally got dealt with.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats

The Justice Secretary has generously recognised the concern felt by the families of Jeremy Lakin, a constituent of mine, and others who were either killed or injured in serious incidents such as those in Sharm el Sheikh or Mumbai, given that the original commitment was made by the last Government, before the last election. Given the delay so far, can the Justice Secretary assure them and others in their position that the announcement of April payments will mean that it will be possible to make payments soon after the beginning of the next financial year? What they need is certainty.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Yes, I can assure my right hon. Friend on that. We are not consulting on this because it has been around for so long. We are not having further delay while we consult on it: it is a non-consultative part of the document. We are going to implement the scheme in April, and I hope that will lead to prompt payment. It has taken far too long, and we will certainly do everything we can to make the payments as promptly as possible, though some will have to be assessed, in order to get the figure right in each case.

Photo of Sheila Gilmore Sheila Gilmore Labour, Edinburgh East

One of the concerns in family law cases is that the victims of domestic violence can, in subsequent proceedings—perhaps on issues of custody or other things to do with children—be faced with a party litigant against them. Is it not the case that the changes to legal aid will make that sort of thing more likely to happen, and that that is extremely oppressive to victims?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

The hon. Lady has ingeniously raised a point that is wholly relevant to the legal aid provisions in the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which is in another place, and not to this statement. In family law it is by no means unusual for the parties to face each other, and if one starts behaving badly towards the other, the judges just have to use the powers available to them to stop that happening. It is simply not possible to make every aspect of a dispute in court free of any stress or problem for both sides, because usually the parties in such cases are arguing about very stressful and emotional things about which both parties are considerably overwrought.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Conservative, Bournemouth East

I welcome this statement, and in particular the commitment to support British victims of terrorism overseas. As the Secretary of State implies, this is long overdue. As compensation goes, I think terrorism falls into a different category from a broken finger, which he mentioned, or a robbery. It is a brutal message from the state. Terrorists do not recognise borders, but our compensation system does. Will he confirm that Britons affected by terrorist attacks, such as those in Bali, Sharm el Sheikh or Mumbai, will be supported in the same way as those affected by 7/7, including for loss of earnings?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

My hon. Friend has campaigned strongly on this subject—again, ever since he has been in the House—and I am very much aware of his views. What I have announced for the ex gratia arrangement—that is, the one that is paid under no legal obligation, but which we have agreed to pay for those whose claims will predate the new scheme’s coming into effect—is in exactly the same terms as what was announced under the previous Government, which was agreed to by both my party and the Liberal Democrat party. That arrangement does not include loss of earnings, and we are not going back to try to revalue it. However, in future claims will be eligible for compensation on exactly the same basis that they would have been eligible for compensation for a similar crime in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Pat Glass Pat Glass Labour, North West Durham

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the consultation will also look into the issue of prison officers who are assaulted by lifers? In such cases, the CPS routinely takes the view that it is not in the public interest to prosecute as the perpetrators are already in prison. Compensation matters, but so does justice, to prison officers such as my constituent Neil Walker, who, along with colleagues, was seriously assaulted by Kevan Thakrar. Some of those prison officers will never work again. They need compensation, but they also need justice.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Prison officers do an extremely important and sometimes dangerous job, so I entirely share the hon. Lady’s views on the need to look after and protect them. They are entitled to, and should receive, criminal injuries compensation on exactly the same basis as any other citizen. I would expect the CPS to take allegations of assault or violence against prison officers just as seriously as they would take such allegations relating to any other citizen, and I think that it usually does. I cannot intervene in individual cases, and there is always some discretion, but I agree that our prison officers deserve the fullest possible protection that we, as a society, can give them.

Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley

Will the consultation document cover the possibility of curbing payments of compensation to people who have been convicted abroad but now reside in this country?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

I think it certainly should, but I will have to examine further how effective the administrative arrangements for detecting such cases will prove to be. We are always trying to improve the exchanges of criminal records, so that people bear the proper consequences of any criminal records that they have built up.

Photo of Rehman Chishti Rehman Chishti Conservative, Gillingham and Rainham

I welcome the Lord Chancellor’s statement. Will he confirm that the money raised by the increase in fixed penalties for motoring offences will also be used to support victim services?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Yes. The reason that we are raising more money from offenders through the surcharge is precisely to improve the services offered to the victims of crime. Whatever the source of the money, it will all be directed towards improving those services across the country.

Photo of Andrew Murrison Andrew Murrison Conservative, South West Wiltshire

I very much welcome my right hon. and learned Friend’s statement. He is right to direct the services of the criminal injuries compensation scheme towards those victims who have suffered the most. People who develop mental health problems as a result of a crime often find that their conditions are difficult to quantify or are not readily apparent. What can be done to ensure that such people are not disadvantaged?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

As my hon. Friend says, the problem is often one of obtaining a proper diagnosis, in order that the consequences of crime can be recognised. In order to concentrate on the most serious offences that have lasting and sometimes permanent consequences, we had to draw the line somewhere. Below that line, the amount of compensation starts steadily to be reduced under the tariffs, with the very lowest tariffs receiving no compensation at all. Mental illness occurs at various levels in the tariffs, according to the lasting consequences that are being suffered, and to their severity. We will therefore still have the problem of assessing and diagnosing each case accurately, to ensure that it is the serious, lasting problems that are compensated, as they quite properly are now.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

I commend the Lord Chancellor for his statement, which any right-minded person would regard as sensible and forward thinking. Does he agree that support services are as important as compensation for many victims? Does he think it right and proper that the taxpayer should not be asked to pay for those support services when the offender can do so?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

Support services are sometimes more important. The trauma suffered by a victim is not always proportionate to the seriousness of a crime. Some people, for example, are hardy and can get over a nasty experience fairly rapidly, while some frail, vulnerable people can be severely affected for many years by a comparatively minor incident. We are trying to ensure that the support services are better targeted so that we can concentrate on those who really need the help, and that local priorities are determined more locally. It is obviously sensible to say—no one has disagreed with the view today—that those who commit crimes, including those who go to prison and those who receive a community sentence, should contribute to the cost of the support given to the victims of crime in general.

Photo of Sarah Wollaston Sarah Wollaston Conservative, Totnes

As a result of funding from the Ministry of Justice, women who have been victims of sexual crimes in my constituency can now benefit from help and support from Devon Rape Crisis. As a patron of Devon Rape Crisis, I ask the Secretary of State to ensure that a sufficient amount of the £50 million that is going to be taken from convicted criminals will go towards long-term secure funding for rape crisis centres around the country.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

The Government will continue to look at rape crisis centres as a national responsibility and consider funding them from the centre. We have been able to open, I think, four new ones since we came to office, but for all existing ones we have for the first time pledged funding for three years, providing them with more sustainable security than under the previous year-by-year changes. I can assure my hon. Friend that we will continue to give very high priority to improving support for such valuable centres as much as we possibly can. I think she agrees and is prepared to say that our record so far is pretty good. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary certainly helps me to ensure that we keep concentrating resources in this area.

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

I recently visited Cambridge victim support, which does an excellent job, but there is no doubt that greater help is needed for victims and witnesses. I welcome that much of the statement, but will the Justice Secretary clarify his comments about those who have been convicted? I accept that we need to stop those who simply take advantage of the scheme, but he will be aware that some convictions are never spent. Is he arguing that someone who was convicted for such an offence 50 years ago should still not be eligible for any compensation, irrespective of what happens to them?

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Government are committed to introducing amendments to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, currently in the other place, in order to amend the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. This is very much a Liberal Democrat initiative, and it will make the difference between spent and unspent sentences a little less rigorous. We are consulting on exceptions to an absolute bar. It is right that someone injured in their 60s does not necessarily lose all right to compensation on the basis that he had quite a serious conviction when he was 19. Without opening the gates too wide, we are, as it were, canvassing views on how to accommodate such exceptional cases—so long as they are rare and exceptional.