Belfast Telegraph

Bid to change crime payout rules

People who suffer minor injuries as a result of crime will no longer be compensated by the state if new reforms are given the go-ahead.

The proposals are part of a radical shake-up of compensation schemes which would mean only those worst affected by crime would be entitled to a taxpayer-funded claim.

Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford said: "We need to recognise the difficult financial climate we are likely to face for the foreseeable future and ensure that compensation goes to those victims who have been most seriously impacted by crime."

The reforms, the first major changes in 40 years, are aimed at modernising legislation to reflect the normalisation of society.

Under current laws people who sustain minor injuries such as a sprained ankle, fractured nose, damaged teeth or a broken toe as a result of a criminal act can claim between £1,000 and £2,500.

The new proposals would mean they get nothing from the state.

Payments for moderate injuries such as a punctured lung, broken leg or a fractured skull which can generate claims of up to £8,200 may also be reduced by about £2,000.

However, compensation claims of up to £250,000 for serious, life-changing or long-term injuries would remain unaffected.

Mr Ford added: "In the case of criminal injuries, there are a number of proposals for change which take into account local circumstances and reaffirm the fundamental purpose of the scheme as an expression of public sympathy.

"Those proposals aim to target compensation towards victims who are the most seriously injured by violent crime and where the impact of the criminal injury is long-term and life-changing."

Payments for criminal damage are also being re-focused and reduced to put the onus of responsibility on the individual citizen to insure their property.

However, compensation would continue to be paid for damage caused by acts of terrorism or following serious public disorder involving 12 or more people - a rise on the three people which currently constitute a riot.

Mr Ford said: "In the case of criminal damage, the proposals acknowledge the ongoing terrorist threat and risk of serious public disorder and strike a balance between the extent of liability which should continue to be placed on the taxpayer and an individual's own responsibility to insure their property."

Last year £3 million was awarded to 291 criminal damage claimants - a significant drop on the £50 million paid out at the height of the Troubles in 1976/77 when bombings were an almost daily occurrence.

The plans also include a £2 million cap - the highest amount ever claimed in Northern Ireland following a fire bomb attack on commercial premises in Belfast during 2006.

The minister has vowed to reinvest a proportion of any savings made as a result of the reforms to improve victims' services.

A 14-week public consultation on the new proposals opens today and will run until March 16.

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