October marks Domestic Violence Awareness month. In the 12 months ending March 2020 the Crime Survey for England and Wales revealed that an estimated 2.3 million adults aged 16 to 74 years experienced domestic abuse in the last year.
Whilst some victims and survivors of domestic violence may not press criminal charges at all, or may not want to do this immediately, they can pursue justice through criminal courts. However, generally they will not recover significant compensation, known as 'damages', in a criminal court. Although damages may be a secondary concern they can be important in helping victims and survivors gain access to private treatment and assist in regaining financial independence.
There are two avenues for compensation: a Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority ('CICA') claim and a civil claim pursuing the perpetrator directly. Often the perpetrator of the crime will not have sufficient funds to be pursued directly and then the CICA claim becomes the only real option for compensation.
The CICA is a Government-funded body which compensates people who have been physically or mentally injured due to a crime of violence. In order to qualify for a CICA claim you must report the incident to the police as soon as practically possible.
Sometimes the CICA criteria can lead to barriers in pursuing claims. For instance, victims and survivors of domestic violence may suffer a prolonged period of abuse and may not report that immediately to the police. This could be due to fear of further violence or because they live in the same household as the perpetrator.
Victims generally only have two years from the date that a crime was committed to bring a claim within the CICA scheme. In claims relating to sexual abuse (be that in a domestic setting or not), this is clearly a very short period of time to start a claim. A survivor is likely to have experienced significant trauma and disruption to their lives, and may not be able to manage bringing a claim on top of this.
That's why it is important to be aware that there are some limited exceptions to the two year deadline.
Where someone has been abused as a child, and this has been reported to the police before they become an adult, they have until they turn 20 to bring a claim. Additionally, where someone was abused as a child, but they do not report this until they are an adult, they have 2 years from the date they reported the abuse to bring a claim.
The CICA has discretion to extend the deadline for bringing a claim within the scheme. Unfortunately, this is only permitted where there are "exceptional circumstances” which meant that the person was not able to bring a claim earlier. An exceptional circumstance could be where a person was suffering with related severe mental ill-health that meant they were unable to deal with a CICA claim until after the deadline.
The unfortunate reality is that, compared to other types of claims for compensation, the CICA scheme does not generally result in very high awards of compensation.
There is a very rigid tariff system for injuries and limited types of losses which can be claimed. There is an upper limit of £500,000 for all claims in the Scheme. For instance if someone has lost earnings as a result of the abuse (which may arise where they have experienced mental ill-health and have needed time off work), such a claim is limited to Statutory Sick Pay rates and is only payable from the 29th week of loss.
Where to go?
For anyone who is experiencing domestic violence, or who knows someone that might be, the Domestic Abuse Hub on our website provides information and links to organisations which can provide support.
Whilst the system is not perfect, there are avenues available to victims and survivors of domestic violence to pursue a claim beyond the confines of the Criminal Courts. Financial awards will never adequately compensate victims and survivors of domestic violence for the trauma they have been through. However, they may go some way to providing the resources they will need to assist them in building their future.