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Criminal injuries compensation and ‘undeserving’ victims

Having a criminal record should not mean victims of serious crime are denied the recognition and compensation they need

Today Unlock is publishing our response to the government’s consultation on the upcoming ‘Victims’ Bill’. You can read our full response here. 

In responding to this consultation, our focus is on the discriminatory ‘unspent convictions rule’ which prevents victims of serious crimes like sexual assault from accessing vital compensation if they have unspent convictions. Today, we’re also sharing new insights from researchers at the University of Nottingham who have been looking closely at this issue. 

Being the victim of a serious crime can leave a severe and lasting impact on a person; emotional, physical, financial and often a combination of all three. That’s why, to help victims of crimes such as sexual assault and serious physical violence, the government provides a small amount of financial compensation. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) who administers the scheme says: “… [the award] will never fully compensate you for what you have suffered or lost – it is just society’s way of recognising that you have been a victim.”   

What message does this send to the thousands of people who have been denied compensation due to their unspent convictions? We believe this rule creates a hierarchy of victims, which sets a dangerous precedent.  

From 2016 to 2019, 3,500 people who were victims of violent crime – 420 of them victims of sexual violence – were refused compensation due to an unspent conviction. Examples include victims of rape and sexual abuse who have been denied compensation because of unspent convictions for offences like non-payment of a TV license. High profile child sexual abuse scandals have highlighted the issue of women and girls being criminalised as a result of the abuse and exploitation they endured. 

Research conducted by criminologists at the University of Nottingham has explored the impact of a criminal record on access to the scheme. Lauren Bradford-Clarke, Rhiannon Davies and Andrew Henley have analysed data provided by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority to examine how many cases each year are affected by restrictions introduced in 2012 which further limited state compensation for people with unspent criminal records.   

For the period 2013 to 2021 they found 2,190 cases where women who were victims of violent crime had their compensation claim negatively impacted by their unspent conviction.  Of these cases: 

  • 78.9% had their claim to CICA rejected and they received no compensation; 
  • in the 21.1% of cases where compensation was awarded, these women typically received compensation that was 55 per cent lower than women without a criminal record; 
  • amongst the 462 women who suffered a deduction to their compensation – 186 had been victims of sexual violence, 43 had sustained a disabling mental injury as a result of their victimisation, and 81 had sustained bodily scarring due to the crimes committed against them, including 61 women with facial scars. 

Commenting on these figures Dr Henley said: “These are women who have criminal records which are wholly unrelated to their subsequent victimisation event. We believe that it is inappropriate that crime victims who have already paid the penalty for a previous offence should then be further punished by the withdrawal or reduction of government-funded compensation.”   

Dr Bradford-Clarke added: “Our concern is that this is the tip of the iceberg and that there are many more women with criminal records who are victims of violent crime but who do not pursue a claim with CICA because they fear they will be unsuccessful. These findings contradict government claims to put victims at the heart of the criminal justice system and to take seriously the problem of violence against women and girls in society. 

Having an unspent conviction doesn’t mean you were any less traumatised and harmed by what happened to you. It doesn’t mean you don’t need time off work, counselling and other necessities that compensation can help with.  

Before 2012, decision makers had discretion to pay out awards for those with unspent convictions on a case-by-case basis, which meant there was room to treat people fairly. We are asking – at the very least – for a return to this system; a system that deemed people with criminal records to be as deserving of support and dignity as everyone else.  

If we’re serious about ending violence against women, we have to mean all women – not just those who meet the criteria of the ‘ideal victim’. Several months after the courageous Kim Mitchell won her case against the government, there’s still no sign of the promised public consultation on this issue. We urge the government to do right by Kim and other survivors of abuse, and allow them to have their say. 

Written by:

Angela Cairns is Chief Executive of Unlock


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Debbie Sadler
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