Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Questions (41)

John Curran

Question:

41. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the results of an assessment of the caseload of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal as requested by him; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26854/19]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Justice)

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal administers a scheme of compensation for those who have received criminal injuries. I have been pursuing a number of cases for a while and have raised the matter with the Minister on a number of occasions. There is an increased number of claims and what appears to be a relatively slow and long period to come to a resolution in some of them. He previously indicated that this matter would be under review.

What is the outcome of the review, and what steps can be taken to advance the existing backlog?

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Tribunal administers the scheme of compensation for personal injuries criminally inflicted. Under the terms of the scheme, the tribunal is entirely independent in the matter of individual decisions on applications for compensation. The Deputy will be aware that because of the manner in which cases have been recorded, in particular applications which are received but not actively pursued by the applicant, it has not been possible to date to provide the number of active cases that remain unsettled by the tribunal. To address the issue, I have requested an assessment of the caseload of the tribunal, which I am informed will be submitted soon. I will be happy to provide the Deputy with a further update at that point. Nevertheless, my expectation is that the assessment will include short to medium-term recommendations designed to improve the processing time.

I invite the Deputy to accept that many of these cases are complex and will take considerable time to conclude. Notwithstanding that, I expect that steps can be taken to increase the processing time of more straightforward cases. In addition to these short-to-medium-term measures, the Law Reform Commission, LRC, has included a review of the compensation scheme as one of the projects in its forthcoming work programme, which I welcome as an opportunity to examine in some detail the long established scheme for providing compensation to people who suffer injury as a result of criminal activity.

I acknowledge that the tribunal is entirely independent but the review is important because, in the absence of the details and the knowledge of what is happening and making the payouts so slow, the Government is not in a position to know how to resource the tribunal adequately with personnel and funding. In 2015, for example, there were 217 applications, for which 159 payments were made. On the other hand, last year, only three years later, there were 174 applications but only 18 of them were resolved, while in 2017, payments were made in only 31 cases. All of a sudden a bottleneck has been hit, which is out of kilter with the previous years. Over all the years of the tribunal, significantly more applications than payments have been made. My understanding is there have been probably hundreds of cases in the system for years and years. The review needs to determine what steps can be taken but some of the cases need to be dealt with quickly because the applicants have waited a long time.

I accept there is a delay and I am keen to ensure that it will be minimised. The level of resources allocated to the tribunal, similar to any other line of the justice Vote, is determined having regard to the overall budgetary context, although I have been in a position to maintain the current funding of €4 million for a number of years. Moreover, an increased allocation of €2.4 million was provided as part of a Supplementary Estimate in 2018.

While I express concern about the delay, the tribunal is entirely independent in the making of individual decisions on applications for compensation. It would be imprudent of me to comment on any individual case but, in general, the issue of a delay is of concern to me, which is why I indicated there will be an assessment.

I again acknowledge that the tribunal is independent but it is dependent on the Minister and his Department for its funding, the level of which determines its efficiency, the rate at which it can deal with cases and the payments that are made. He correctly indicated that for most of the recent years, the allocation was €4 million, and that there was an addition of more than €2 million last year, bringing the allocation to €6.5 million. That €6.5 million, however, addressed payments to only 18 cases. I am dealing with a victim, and I will not name her although she is not from my constituency. The person who committed the crime against her has been through the courts but she must still go through the tribunal. Her testimony to me is that the process equates to reliving constantly the vicious attack she suffered. People such as her want closure. She has been in the system for several years and is pleading that the matter be addressed more quickly than it has been.

While I will not be drawn into responding to any individual case, I acknowledge what the Deputy said. In making decisions, tribunal members need to be satisfied in respect of a number of issues, such as ensuring that all supporting documentation has been provided, which will enable the tribunal to reach a decision on any application. It may well be the case from time to time that further documentation is sought. In addition, there may be circumstances where, owing to the nature of the serious injury involved, further ongoing medical issues have to be determined, reports may have to be provided, a medical condition may have to be addressed, or there may be issues the treating consultant is in a position to address with an updated medical report.

Nevertheless, I accept the Deputy's overall point, namely, that the delays require analysis. I will be happy to keep him updated on how the analysis takes shape.