News

No answer on delays in victim compensation

  • Board chairwoman: Puisne Judge Nicole Stoneham

The government body set up to compensate victims of crime has failed to reveal the size of its “serious backlog” of cases under public access to information.

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Board told the Court of Appeal last November that it had 37 outstanding applications from those who have lost a loved one or been injured themselves because of a violent crime.

But the board was criticised by the panel of judges for failing to provide enough detail on whether most cases were dealt with in a timely fashion.

Now the board has sidestepped a Pati request from The Royal Gazette, which asked for records “showing the number of outstanding applications to the CICB — ie, claims received that have not been processed yet — and the dates on which those applications were submitted”.

The board’s administrator said that it met four times in 2017 and considered 39 applications and met only once in 2018 and considered 17 applications.

The response did not reveal how many victims who have applied to the board for a payout were still waiting on a decision and how long they had been in the queue.

The administrator wrote: “Following 2016, 2017 and 2018 reviews of all outstanding applications, clear administrative instructions were issued by the chairperson to the appointed administrative officer assigned, for the time being, to carry out duties in relation to each outstanding CICB application filed.”

The Royal Gazette reported in October that a gunshot victim who suffered permanent injuries that hampered his ability to work had been waiting for three years for an answer from the board, despite at least 15 attempts by his lawyer to find out when his claim would be heard.

The story sparked an investigation by Victoria Pearman, the Ombudsman, into possible maladministration.

In a separate case, which went to the Court of Appeal, the judges heard how Lionel Thomas, another firearms victim, applied for compensation in October 2014, but did not get a decision until March 2018.

He was awarded $5,750 but the appeal judges increased that to $10,000 plus $1,500 in legal costs.

Appeal judge Maurice Kay criticised the board’s failure to fulfil its statutory duties in the court’s ruling.

The judge wrote: “It appears that no annual reports have been submitted to the Attorney-General for the years 2016 or 2017 and nor is there any plan for disposing of the serious backlog of claims.

“If the Government is to provide a scheme for the compensation of the victims of crime, as it currently does under the Criminal Injuries (Compensation) Act 1973, it must be properly funded with adequate administrative support. This is ultimately the responsibility of the Attorney-General.”

The Royal Gazette also asked the CICB for the annual notices that listed the members of the board between 2010 and 2017, but was only provided with the most recent notice, from August last year.

The board’s membership is chairwoman Puisne Judge Nicole Stoneham; deputy chairman Michael Scott, a Progressive Labour Party MP and lawyer; doctors Panagal Chelvam and Kyjuan Brown; and lawyers Tawana Tannock and Paul Wilson.

The administrator wrote that the last time an annual report was submitted to the Attorney-General was in April 2016.

The CICB was asked for the dates on which the board had met since January 1, 2017 and minutes of the meetings.

The administrator said that no minutes were taken at CICB meetings.

He added: “The board was properly organised as of January 1, 2018. The board simply did not meet to consider their application during the eight-month period January 1, 2018 to August 2018.”

He said that no fee payments had been made to board members from January 1 this year to date.

We have asked Mrs Justice Stoneham to review the Pati decision.

The Royal Gazette sent board members e-mailed questions on Thursday, when we asked for the number of outstanding applications for compensation. We also asked why they met only once last year and whether they had received any payments for sitting on the board.

Ms Tannock was the only one to acknowledge the email but said she was not in a position to respond as she was off the island.

She added: “I will ask that your e-mail be forwarded to the appropriate party.”

Mr Scott raised the e-mailed questions during the motion to adjourn in the House of Assembly last Friday.

He said the newspaper already had “answers to all” the questions about payments to the board and should not have used Pati-gained information to put “these kinds of questions” to him “along with dozens of other questions”.

The former Attorney-General said: “This whole Pati-Royal Gazette dance that’s going on is getting a bit sick, really, and I call on ... The Royal Gazette just to stop it. To just stop it. I don’t intend to answer you.”

Shadow Attorney-General Scott Pearman highlighted the CICB in Parliament in March and asked for an update on the “considerable backlog” of cases.

Kim Wilson, the health minister, referred his questions to the board chairwoman.

Mr Pearman said: “I accept that it is a statutory board, but my understanding is that it is also an appointed statutory board and, therefore, there is an oversight function. And sometimes if people are not meeting, people need to ask them why they are not meeting.”

Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

To view the Pati response from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, click on the PDF link under “Related Media”