Victims of sexual abuse should be paid compensation at ‘earliest possible moment’ to aid recovery

Victims of sexual abuse should be paid compensation as soon as possible after a court case to help them fund treatment for trauma sooner, according to a report.

The Civil Justice Council (CJC) has called for Criminal Compensation Orders to be used more to cut down on victims of sexual assault and abuse having to face making a subsequent claim in the civil courts.

The court rulings, which order an offender to pay a victim compensation for injury, loss or damage caused by the offence, are rarely made, according to Ministry of Justice (MoJ) figures cited by the report.

Some lawyers suggested there was an “apparent reluctance” by judges to use their powers to award compensation, according to the findings.

Just 26 were made in 2017 despite 6,861 defendants being convicted of relevant offences. Of these, eight orders were for £100 or less, the report said.

The CJC said: “Victims of sexual abuse should be awarded compensation at the earliest possible moment, so that it can be used to fund treatment far earlier than will often be the case if he or she is otherwise reliant upon provision by the NHS and statutory services; sometimes leading to a much earlier reduction in symptoms/effects.”

The Personal Injuries Bar Association, which responded to the consultation carried out by the CJC while it produced its report, said: “This is a very good idea for the cases where compensation could be dealt with by the criminal court and so prevent a need to come to the civil court at all.

“A culture change will be needed given the apparent reluctance of judges to use their existing powers to award compensation in criminal cases.

“But this is only a partial answer as often, in save but the most straightforward cases, there will be insufficient evidence as to diagnosis, prognosis, causation and other losses for a realistic valuation to be put on a compensation award of the type which would obviate a need for a civil claim entirely.

“This is before one considers issues of enforcement of such awards.”

Sarah Champion (pictured), the Labour MP for Rotherham, told the CJC a revised Victims’ Code should detail the right to Criminal Compensation Orders, adding: “The Government should seek to understand why judges are not issuing Criminal Compensation Orders in child sexual abuse cases and publish its findings.”

The report, which also called for the protection of vulnerable witnesses in civil cases to improve, made a string of other recommendations including:

  • Criminal judges and prosecutors should be trained to make sure compensations orders are used where possible so victims of sexual abuse do not have to face making a subsequent claim in the civil courts.
  • Court staff working on civil cases “should be trained in how they handle vulnerable court users as a matter of urgency”.
  • Witnesses should be asked for the outset of proceedings if they are vulnerable and need assistance.

Judge Barry Cotter, chairman of the CJC’s group which carried out the work, said he hoped the recommendations will be considered as a matter of urgency, adding: “The public consultation highlighted very real concerns about the current level of assistance for vulnerable people in civil proceedings.”

The Master of the Rolls Sir Terence Etherton, the second most senior judge in England and Wales who is the head of civil justice, said: “For the justice system to work, appropriate assistance must be provided to those that need it to ensure they can take part in proceedings to the best of their ability.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2020, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) House Of Commons / PA Wire.