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Child Sex Abuse: Compensation

Volume 628: debated on Tuesday 5 September 2017

4. What assessment his Department has made of the adequacy of compensation paid by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority in child sex abuse cases. (900667)

Child sexual abuse is abhorrent. The taxpayer-funded criminal injuries compensation scheme provides an important avenue of redress for victims and is accessible to victims of violent crimes, including physical and sexual assaults. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority administers the scheme and decides all claims individually, independently of Ministers and Parliament.

Will the Secretary of State commit to updating the guidance in three specific areas? First, children cannot be complicit in their own abuse. Secondly, as part of a grooming process, children are coerced into carrying out criminal activities. Thirdly, will he look at compensation for victims of family abuse under the same roof before 1979? At the moment, CICA is denying compensation on those grounds.

I am happy to look further at all those three issues. Following some of the concerns expressed earlier this year, CICA decided to mount an urgent re-examination of its own internal guidelines—in particular, to make sure that there is no risk that a child could be disqualified from compensation because they had given consent when that consent had, in effect, been forced from them by a subtle process of grooming. The Department is also aware of concerns that have been raised about how the rules of the scheme work more generally in relation to cases of child sexual abuse. We are talking to organisations such as Barnardo’s and Victim Support in detail about those concerns and the reforms that they propose to deal with them.

If it is a criminal offence to have sex with a child, how is such an offence anything but a crime of violence? To say that child victims cannot receive compensation for their abuse is simply victim blaming. The definition of a crime of violence was last reviewed five years ago. When will this be reassessed to ensure that sexually abused children are not denied compensation?

As I have said, we are discussing with the various charities the concerns that they have expressed. If the hon. Lady’s point was about the distinction that CICA makes between consent in law and consent in fact, this has been written into the law since it was first introduced by the previous Labour Government, I believe, and administered during their time in office. Its purpose was to ensure that we did not end up in a situation where, for example, two 15-year-olds engaging in sexual intercourse automatically led to a claim for compensation —it would be left to the authority to look at the facts of the case. I am very willing to look at, and CICA is already looking at, the guidance that applies to individual cases, but we should not lose sight of the fact that there was a reasonable motive behind the law as it was originally drafted.

No one will deny the absolute right and need of victims to receive proper compensation from CICA under these conditions, but does not the Secretary of State agree that there may be occasions—as in, for example, the very grave allegations made against the late Sir Edward Heath—when the informant is incentivised in one way or another to make the allegation by the likelihood of getting some kind of compensation? Should not the compensation wait so that the outcome of the investigation is known before the person making the allegations is paid?

The scheme operates to provide compensation for people who are victims of crime. Probably all of us, as constituency Members, can think of cases when somebody has been the victim of an assault, but it has been impossible to successfully prosecute the person or people responsible. A direct link to a trial and conviction is therefore not in the scheme. However, I do agree with my hon. Friend that if there is evidence that compensation has been sought fraudulently, the authority ought to seek the necessary legal action to recover those funds.