§ 7.55 p.m.
§ The Earl of LONGFORD rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they will take to promote an active policy in aid of victims of crime. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I rise to ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they will take to promote the welfare of victims of crime, who are surely the most neglected section of our people. I am grateful to 256 all those who intend to take part in the debate. I have tried to provide them with a copy of an interim report on victims which a working party under my chairmanship has just published. I must not be invidious, but I cannot help saying how pleased I am that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, is to make his maiden speech, and I am also very glad that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who we do not see here often enough, is able to play his part this evening. I was, if not exactly disgruntled, not exactly gruntled either, to read in the Evening Standard that I had long neglected the victims of crime and only took up their cause last year when people criticised me for undue interest in one or two well known criminals. Of course, I enjoy reading the Evening Standard—it is part of life, like the weather. Often it says what is true and sometimes it says what is a complete contradiction of the truth. Indeed, its last observations fall into the latter bracket.
§ In 1962 in this House I opened the debate on victims—before, I imagine, many of the Members of the House, and certainly most of the journalists on the Evening Standard, were very mature. That was the last systematic discussion on victims that we held here. I had, a short while before then, been chairman of a committee of Justice and a short while after that—I shall not say that it was propter hoc but it was certainly post hoc—steps were introduced to give us the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. In the meantime, since 1962, there has been an immense increase in crime, especially violent crime, and a corresponding increase in the number of victims and their sufferings.
§ In the interim report which I have just mentioned our sole object has been to improve the lot of victims by direct initiative. To draw up a complete charter for victims would require a fundamental study of the causes and prevention of crime and of the punishment and treatment of criminals. Victims themselves not only desire compensation for their injuries; they are just as anxious to be protected from similar aggression in the future.
§ We support all efforts to provide more effective law and order, and naturally we are delighted to see that the rewards to our devoted, but much harassed, 257 police forces are about to be increased. However, when we come to penal policy, no one could pretend that there is, or is likely to be, any consensus in this country. Many victims and their relatives, and many members of the general public, are convinced that victims will never be adequately protected until criminals are punished more severely. Many others believe the precise opposite: they believe, as I do, that more humane methods of treatment will benefit not only the criminals but society, and, by inference, the victims.
§ We have not attempted to thrash out this argument which will perhaps continue throughout the lifetime of even the youngest of us. We come before the public, and I come before the House tonight, insisting that the immediate plight of victims is too urgent to be left over until the main problems of penal policy arc resolved. Therefore, we have not considered in our report, and I am not considering this evening, the penal system, which we have discussed often enough under one aspect or another in this place. In one respect we have considered the penal system. We have agreed that much more emphasis in imposing punishment should be laid on the necessity that reparations should be made to society and, where possible, to the individual victim. We urge that much more use should be made of compensation orders and the machinery of criminal bankruptcy. The complexities involved here have been set out in expert fashion in various reports, but in a recent report of the Advisory Council on Penal Policy. Although there are many difficulties in that area I believe that they will be solved one day, but they will certainly take a long time to straighten out. As a famous theologian once remarked, "A hundred difficulties do not make a doubt", and that does not weaken our belief that the future of punishment should lay much more stress on reparation.
§ Our report is essentially an interim report. We have stressed the need for something much more comprehensive and more precise, whether under Government or under voluntary auspices. In any further report we would hope to see explored the whole idea of reconciling offenders and victims—an inspiring, if arduous, aspiration. The problems involved in any such reconciliation are as varied as human nature itself. No other 258 individual has contributed as much to the work of our committee as Mr. Michael Whittaker, whose daughter was raped and strangled. He is an example of the victim who seeks reconciliation, although in that particular case the murderer killed himself. But I have met mothers who would, initially at any rate, have regarded it as a betrayal of their murdered children if they had any truck with the murderer. So it is no easy problem from that side.
§ On the other hand, if we take the criminals, I know of a young policeman whose career in the Police Force was ended by a brutal assault. He visited his assailant in his cell and was told by the assailant, "I would have killed you if I had known you were alone". I firmly believe that no human being is irredeemable, but on the face of it there is no immediate prospect of reconciliation there. On the other hand—and no human being is really typical—I know of a young man whose terrorist activities caused terrible damage. He has now publicly repudiated all violence and for some time has expressed the desire to apologise to his victims. Unfortunately, the authorities have been somewhat sluggish in giving him any encouragement. But I hope and believe that more enlightened counsels will prevail.
§ I shall not weary the House this evening with statistics. No one seems able to make a reasonable estimate of the number of victims in this country, or even the number of victims of violence. The House will be aware that the victims of violence are the only victims who are compensated at present through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme. In 1976 to 1977 about 14,000 people received awards, but no doubt there were many others who would have qualified if they had come forward. The Board itself has again and again admitted that large numbers of victims do not apply for compensation for a number of reasons. Perhaps the simplest is that a high proportion of victims do not wish to appear in public; they feel humiliated and the whole idea of emerging in some sort of public argument, either about their own sufferings or victims generally, is repugnant to them. At any rate, everyone knows that many more victims exist—even victims of crimes of violence—than those who put in any kind of claim. I should mention in 259 passing that there is a limit of £150 at the present time; one cannot put in a claim for less than that. I shall mention only one or two other figures.
§ The amount paid out to victims through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board was about £9½ million in 1976–77, which is the last year for which figures are available. That is known. That is a figure. We have pointed out in our report—perhaps somewhat speculatively, but I personally believe that we are not far wrong—that well over £300 million would appear to have been spent in the same period in dealing with crime. This takes no account of the actual damage done, let alone the suffering caused.
§ What, then, do we suggest should be done? Five of our 14 recommendations involve the strengthening of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board and extending its responsibilities. The Board should be much more generously staffed than it is now. That would serve the double purpose of enabling the facilities to become much better known to the public; the present painful delays in payment should be much reduced. The Board should be equipped with the resources to make possible a much higher total of payments to qualified victims, assuming that they are ready to come forward. Large numbers of victims not qualified at present should, in our view, be entitled to claim benefit in future.
§ Beneficiaries would no longer be restricted to those who have suffered crimes of violence and their dependants. We are clear about that as a broad statement, but we admit that once we pass beyond that broad statement we get into very great difficulties. The 64,000-dollar question for public inquiry is where exactly the new line of qualification should be drawn. For example, when houses and flats are broken into the injuries are of two kinds: one, the loss of money and goods and, the other, a permanent sense of insecurity and a persistent fear that the home is now vulnerable. So we feel that we must move beyond the present narrow limits of the scheme. But I recognise that this question of drawing the line between those who are qualified and those who are not is perhaps the most difficult issue. We have not provided a solution in this interim report, but we have placed the issue fairly and squarely on the table.260
§ Wherever the line is drawn the scale of compensation should be raised immediately, without delay, to that prevailing in similar civil cases. This is, indeed, the theoretical position at present, but I have found no one—and I repeat "no one"—who comes at the matter from the victim's end (and that includes legal people who try to assist them) who believes that things work out that way in practice. We are all convinced that the damages received are considerably lower in these criminal injuries cases than in corresponding civil actions.
§ If steps of this kind were taken, there would be a substantial improvement in the treatment of victims, but we are convinced that something much more fundamental is required. We believe that there should be a much more human approach to the total damage suffered by a victim, phychological and moral as well as physical. The psychological consequences of being a victim—for example, the humiliation—are often still more severe than physical. In many cases prolonged therapy may be essential. Rape is an example of that, but there have been many others.
§ We call for the establishment of local victim centres. They would be staffed by professionally-qualified people, assisted by voluntary workers and would involve collaboration on familiar lines between the State, local authorities and the voluntary bodies. We believe—and I bring out the most definite point of all—that none of these things will happen effectively through a series of happy accidents. A minister for victims should be appointed on the analogy of the Minister for the Disabled. This new Minister would not be a Cabinet Minister, but he would have a good standing; he would perhaps be a Minister of State. He would be responsible for promoting the interests of victims generally, for the requisite allocation of public funds under the decisions of the Cabinet, and for encouraging voluntary action. He should be ministerially responsible for a much expanded Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. His mandate would include the establishment, in conjunction with the local authorities, of the local victim centres, which I mentioned a moment ago.
§ Those of us who have kept in touch with the work of the Minister for the 261 Disabled—and he will always be associated with the disablement Bill, which I had the honour of carrying through this House—in the last few years will realise what an enormous difference a dedicated Minister can make to the strengthening, coordination, and inspiration of all the services in a hitherto neglected field. A commission publicly financed but operating independently like the Commission for Racial Equality would, in our plan, serve the cause of victims outside the Government.
§ In short, we are calling not just for an increase of money—though some increase is inevitable if anything like justice is to be done to victims of crime; we are calling much more profoundly for a new, positive, caring approach under which the victims are not left to face unaided the prospect of what amounts in their eyes to a complicated legal action, from which many of them shrink. We believe that society should recognise an active responsibility for those whom it has found impossible to protect from criminal aggression. We believe that victims should no longer be left alone uneasily in the shadows fearful, rightly or wrongly, of a stigma being attached to them, fearful of becoming a source of embarrassment in their circle. We believe that victims should be encouraged to come out into the open, and be treated as they deserve to places of honour. I ask the Question standing in my name.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Lord FOOT
My Lords, the noble Earl in opening this debate disavowed any intention of embarking on a wide discussion of the basic principles of penal reform, and I fully understand the reason why he did it. He wants—if I may say so, quite rightly—to make practical advances upon possibly a narrow front without becoming involved in the general principles of penal reform, about which there would inevitably be substantial differences of view. I understand that, but I think that the noble Earl might agree with me that the question as to what society does about the victims of crime, and particularly the victims of violence, is one that raises profound basic issues on the matter of penal reform.
In this country it has seemed to me that penology, unlike some economic matters, is a subject about which everybody feels entitled to express an opinion. I should 262 hesitate, for example, to express any view about the monetarist theory of economics, but everybody thinks he is entitled to express a view on the complicated matters of penology and penal reform. It is not surprising, therefore, that this gives rise to the fact that some of the most confident opinions upon this subject are expressed by those who know least about it, and equally and by contrast the diffident and cautious opinions are expressed by those people who have studied the problem most deeply.
One of the illusions—and it seems to me one of the silliest and most offensive illusions—prevalent in our society today and for a long time, is that if you express a concern for the plight of the convicted criminal, or if you express concern about the conditions in which the convicted criminal is detained, or if you express doubt as to the usefulness of our prisons and our prison régimes, then on that account you are denying any sympathy for the victims. It appears to be based upon the assumption that we mortals have only a limited capacity for human sympathy, we have only a limited fund of human compassion, and that if we expend too much of it on the criminal there is nothing left for the victim. I have always thought that this is an absurd and unreasonable conflict, and it is particularly appropriate that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, who has been for so long associated with concern for the convicted criminals, should be presenting this Question to the House tonight.
I venture to say that historically it is the people who have been concerned about the convicted criminal who have led the way in taking practical steps for the benefit of the victims of crime. We have two obvious examples: the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, which was set up in 1964, was of course the result of a campaign carried on by Marjorie Fry and the Howard League of Penal Reform; equally, the victim support schemes, which were set up experimentally in Bristol and have since, happily, spread throughout the length and breadth of the land—and about which the noble Earl spoke, and which he wants to see strengthened—were of course initiated under the auspices of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders. It has been the penal reformers who have been the first in campaigning for recognition of the rights 263 and the suffering of the victims of crime. Therefore, I would put to the House as a first proposition that there is no conflict whatever between the desire to see convicted prisoners treated justly and humanely and the concern to relieve the suffering of the people who are the victims of those criminals.
I have spent a large part of my life practising in the criminal courts— mainly because I belong to that inferior class of people called solicitors, in the magistrates' courts. It has been borne in upon me on many occasions, as I have no doubt it has on my colleagues in the law, that the sufferings of the victim in a criminal trial which involves personal injury or involves property injury play a very small part in the proceedings. Indeed, it appears to all the world, and particularly to the victim himself, that he has very little part in these proceedings. That of course is inevitable because the business of the court during the trial is to ascertain whether the accused is properly charged and is guilty of the offence. After the jury have returned their verdict, or the magistrates have made up their minds, then of course there is a close inquiry into the antecedent history of the accused, and there is the production of very often detailed social and medical reports, and the like, before the court decides what to do. Very rarely is any similar inquiry made by the court into what may have been the consequence of the crime in the life and on the future of the victim.
Why does this happen? It happens because under our present procedures the fate and suffering of the victim, and the consequences for him in this life, are irrelevant. Under our present arrangements the question which a court asks itself when it comes to the moment of sentence is necessarily this: What is the appropriate penalty for the offence which has here been disclosed? What punishment does it deserve? Necessarily, in asking that question, the question of the victim does not arise. If the courts were to ask themselves a different question they might obtain a different answer. Instead of asking: "What does this offence deserve by way of punishment?" suppose the courts asked themselves: "In what way could we make the convicted prisoner make amends to the victim of the crime for what he has done?" If that were the 264 question which the court had to ask itself, obviously different considerations would arise. Different answers would be received when one decided what should be done with the condemned man.
In the recent past we have made a few hesitant and tentative steps towards solving the problem of making amends to the victim. We have done so by the introduction of the power of the courts to make compensaton orders. That is a very limited power, but nevertheless there it is. We have had the power conferred upon the courts to make orders of restitution where the property is available to be returned. We have instituted community service orders, whereby the offender does not so much make reparation to the victim but can be said to be making reparation to society for what he has done.
All those measures, which we have adopted in recent times, are of limited application. The main limitation of them, I would suggest, is that they do not apply to the future, with the possible exception of the community service order. This is what I mean. Under our present procedures the courts are powerless to require that an offender, when convicted, shall make future reparation either to the victim, if there is one, or to society as a whole. When we send an offender to prison we not only do not require him to make reparation for the wrong that he has done, but during the period that he is confined we take it out of his power to make any reparation. We do so because when we send the offender to prison we deny him the right to any fair reward for the labour that he may undertake there. Because we deny him the right to that reward we deny him the right even to support his own family, let alone repay the victim of his wrongdoing. At the same time we insist that he shall be an unwilling and expensive burden upon society. Therefore, far from having a procedure, a system, and a mechanism by which the offender can make reparation and amends, either willingly or unwillingly, we have put it out of our power to enable him to do anything of the kind as long as he remains in confinement.
I am entirely aware that the substitution of the concept of reparation and amends for the present concept of punishment would involve a radical reappraisal of the whole of our penal thinking. I am not 265 unaware of the manifold difficulties in making a change of that order and that kind. It is fair to ask this, is it not: Are we doing so very well under our present procedures? Our prisons, as we all know, are bulging at the seams. Thousands of prisoners are living in conditions which are not far short of atrocious. It is admitted on all sides that there are thousands of people in our prisons who need not be there at all from the point of view of the protection of the public and public security. It is also admitted that many of our prisons are schools of crime or, perhaps I should say, the technical colleges of crime. We do all this at an astronomical expense.
It would be generally conceded that for the most part the process of keeping people in confinement in this way achieves no useful purpose except the limited one of keeping prisoners out of the way for the time being. That is what the system under which we are working today does. We must improve upon those procedures by facing up to the problem of what the penal system is intended to achieve. I suggest that we should contemplate and consider that question. In conclusion perhaps I might put the matter in this way. The question is not whether we can safely contemplate a reappraisal of the whole of our penal procedures. I suggest that the real question is whether we can afford anything less.
§ 8.28 p.m.
§ Lord MISHCON
My Lords, I hope that my noble friend Lord Longford will not think me presumptuous if, when for the first time I address your Lordships' House—of which I count it a great privilege to he a Member—I pay him a tribute for bringing this urgent matter to the attention of the House tonight and for the usual humanity with which he has done so. Many of us who admire the noble Earl for the fervour of his spirituality and social work find it somewhat difficult at times to follow him down all the mental paths through which he would, with his gentle eloquence, beckon us. But none of us has the slightest doubt about the physical position of his heart. It is very much in the right place.
It is very suitable that we should consider this subject tonight, for several reasons, one of them being that over recent months various reports have been 266 published which deal with the matter that we are discussing tonight and in particular with the compensation scheme and the Board that administers it. There is the Inter-Departmental Working Party which was set up in 1973 to look at the working of the scheme; it has just reported. That Working Party was also charged with the duty of seeing what findings it could come to in order to turn what is a voluntary ex gratia arrangement, as a result of a prerogative act, into a Statute. There is also of course the Royal Commission, chaired by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Pearson, which has just reported, and although it deals with questions of civil matters, nevertheless it has made some comments on this question of compensation for victims and the working of the scheme and the Board. Thirdly, there has been the report of a Home Office research unit which went into the question to which the noble Lord, Lord Foot, referred in his speech, namely, the question of compensation orders. That research is quite interesting and I shall refer to it shortly. Then there is the interim report of the Working Party, chaired by the noble Earl, to which he referred and which, through his courtesy, I have been able to read.
To start with that last report first, it deserves considerable attention and respect. As one would think was typical of the noble Earl, it aims very high, possibly some may think too high if we are really to urge the Government to take action on this matter: for example, the question of the setting up of a separate Ministry or the creation of a Minister to look after victims or the creation of another commission.
What I wish to do is to make five suggestions of ways in which I think victims who come before the Board and who should be persuaded in certain cases to come before the Board—the noble Earl referred to the reticence of some of them—might be assisted. The first way—this is recommended by the Inter-Departmental Working Party—is that the scheme (which one hopes incidentally will become an Act) should include what it at the moment excludes, and that is members of a family injured by one of that family where they are living together. I do not have to take your Lordships through the whole question of battered wives and matters of that sort to convince this 267 House that it would be appropriate and proper for them now to be brought in.
Secondly—and this is not recommended by the Inter-Departmental Working Party but I think it is essential—at present victims are not allowed the benefit of the legal aid scheme when appearing before the Board. The reason the Inter-Departmental Working Party give for not recommending that legal aid should be extended to them for representation—although it is there under what is called the £25 scheme in regard to advice which might be given to them as to whether or not they are entitled to benefit—is that the Board is not at the moment a tribunal; it may become a tribunal, and various tribunals do not at present give the benefit of advocacy, through the legal aid scheme, to applicants before those tribunals.
I can conceive of no section of our people more deserving of advocacy before a board than the victims of criminal violence. First of all, one can imagine—the noble Earl said this very eloquently—in what a miserable psychological state many of them are. Secondly, there is the great difficulty of being able to enunciate and quantify the damage, which has to be technically worked out if it is to equate to the sort of damages that would be awarded by a civil court for injuries sustained. It is rather Gilbertian, one might think, that whereas the offender very easily obtains criminal legal aid, his victim is unable to do so at present when pleading his or her cause before the Board.
The third point I wish to consider was mentioned by the noble Earl, namely, the encouragement of a magnificent voluntary effort, which I believe was started in Bristol in 1974 and is being continued now in Southampton and other places, where volunteers under a part-time administrator try to assist, with constant contact with the police, victims of burglary, old ladies who are terrified of living alone, victims of violent assault and matters of that kind. I hope very much, as the noble Earl indicated, that local authorities will aid and encourage, by grants and every means in their power, these wonderful centres of comfort which show a victim that society cares.
Apart from the other matters which affect victims, one of the great dis- 268 advantages from which they suffer is the delay that often occurs in the determination of their cases. I put this shortly as my fourth point: I hope these hearings will be speeded up, as well they could be if there were more delegation of the smaller and simpler cases, as well there might be, to officials of the Board, provided there was always the right of appeal to a full Board if any applicant thought he or she had been aggrieved by the result.
My final point—here I touch on a matter raised by the noble Lord, Lord Foot— is that without any doubt it is right that there should be a greater use of compensation orders. As Lord Foot rightly said, these are limited in extent—the limit is £1,000— but there is no doubt whatever that magistrates have found it difficult, for one reason or another, to make these compensation orders. Indeed, this comes out in the research report that was done for the Home Office; it was, I believe, the work of Mr. Paul Softley. In his report he brings out the telling statistic that in only 8.8 per cent. of cases of personal injuries against damage to property or loss of property are these orders being made.
He interestingly says that on inquiry he found that the reason for this was that magistrates wanted guidelines as to how to quantify the sort of orders they ought to make. I know that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor has taken two occasions upon which he has reminded magistrates of these powers. I think one of them was in March 1976 and the other one was in May 1978. But 1 do wonder, and 1 ask this most respectfully, whether the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor could in his kindness look into what at all events is said to be the reason why magistrates are not enforcing or making these compensation orders, and if he feels that it is appropriate that such guidelines are given, then I have no doubt at all that he will duly see that they are given.
I turn from this to another consideration. In my humble opinion, the greatest contribution that can be made to victims of violence is to see, if we possibly can, that they are fewer in number in the future. I want, I hope without drama, to put this in its right perspective. The right reverend Prelate, who I believe may be following me, may himself be quoting from this case—I know not. If he is, I ask 269 his forgiveness. So that we appreciate the gravity of the matter that we are talking about, we started last with a call from the Bishop of Southwark in regard to the South of London, in which, if I may add this personal note, I lived; in which I was born; in which I practised as a young solicitor; which I had the privilege of representing in London government for over 20 years. He talks of a South London which has developed into a state where he says that the clergy are afraid to walk at night and to which he has difficulty in persuading people to come. He uses these words—I am quoting now from The Times of 14th July:A call for political Parties to see the amber light and act to end"—and here they quote the Bishop—'appalling violence and evil' in society has been made by the Bishop of Southwark…He says that fear of violence is making it difficult to find priests to accept livings in some parts of South London…Doctor Stockwood writes…'Even as I write, I have letters in front of me from my clergy telling me how they are constantly burgled or their homes vandalised. For them family life has become intolerable'.And then, after a quotation in this article from another clergyman in South London who talks about his experiences and those of his parishioners, we end with some statistics. I again quote from The Times:Scotland Yard gave figures yesterday showing increasing crimes with violence reported in L Division which covers"—and various districts of South London are mentioned —In 1974, there were 1,422 such crimes: 651 of assault, including homicide, 397 cases of robbery, and 374 other violent crimes. By 1977 the overall figure had increased to 2,055. The number of assaults rose to 802, robberies with violence to 587, and other violent crimes to 666".I next quote from a report in this same area of South London—and I talk only of South London because it has been in the news over this past week and only to instance a district. Unfortunately, there are many other such districts that one could mention. I quote from a report that was made by the principal of a comprehensive school in South London—a school which I know very well—to the governors. It was made only a month ago and this is what she says:We have within our fourth year a number of pupils who represent to us a totally new challenge. We have found ourselves inundated with cries of help from parents who have been unable to establish any ongoing relationship with their 270 children and who have come to us for help because the family situation is becoming untenable. A goodly number of parents have come to us and said that they could not manage without our help. We can see these children inevitably on a road to destruction and there seems to be nothing we or the families can do to halt this. It seemed to us that so many of these children were not benefiting in any way from the education that this school is providing".That principal, together with a devoted staff, has arranged for weekly meetings with parents to try to get some kind of relationship going between parent and teacher and child in order that these children may not become—and I say it deliberately—juvenile delinquents of the future, because nearly every one of them has already been guilty—and I know this to my cost—of some kind of violence within the school. There are too many schools of that kind now in the Metropolis and elsewhere. I say "to my cost" because I own to this House that I am the chairman of governors of that school.
My Lords, I dare not try your Lordships' patience by quoting other things that have happened this week on violence. 1 shall not quote from the Daily Express of this Monday, except to hold up the headline of "Savagery" with two victims of violence depicted underneath and the words:A picture of agony that shows dramatically what the big law and order debate in Britain is all about".Yesterday in the East End of London there was a strike of Asians. Nearly a thousand workers walked out of East London factories; nearly 200 children walked out of the schools in order to protest about the violence in their area.
The last quotation, if I do not ask too much of your Lordships, would be a quotation which ought to be made in this House on this night. It is almost 20 years to the day since Lord Salmon, then Mr. Justice Salmon, uttered the following words when sentencing youths who were guilty of violence in Notting Hill:Everyone, irrespective of the colour of their skin, is entitled to walk through our streets in peace, with their heads erect, and free from fear. This is a right which these courts will always unfailingly uphold".I do not wish to exaggerate; I do not wish to dramatise. I ask myself the question, as your Lordships must have asked yourselves the question: what has caused all this? Is it because a society that we are proud of, and which we call liberal, 271 has become a society of licence? is it because discipline is just an old fashioned word?—and some people think that it is. Is it because, whatever be our faith, religion now takes second place in the life of this country, whereas it previously took the first?—even religion within the broad Prince of Wales formula. Is it that family life is no longer what it was?
To ask rhetorical questions is not to give any advantage to the House in the debate. Somebody once said that when law and order are eroded the statues of Liberty and Justice weep a little. A shadow is finding its way across our land, and when that shadow, which is the slight breakdown—I say no more—of law and order, is there, it envelopes the very bastions of our liberties and freedoms, this very House of Parliament. The cloud may be no bigger than a man's hand, but we ignore it at our peril.
§ 8.52 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of LEICESTER
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just sat down has spoken with such maturity and authority that were it not for the tell-tale letter "M" after his name on the list of speakers, we could hardly have believed that his was a maiden speech. When I was a young man I was told that a good sermon was one that you could hear, one that you could understand and one that helped you during the coming week. I can only say that the noble Lord has won very high marks for audibility, for clarity and for the usefulness of his contribution. We very much look forward to hearing from him in the future.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Foot, I saw no inconsistency in the noble Earl's bringing forward this Question to Her Majesty's Government. We knew perfectly well that his concern for convicted criminals in no way meant that he was lacking in concern for the victims of crime; any more than there was inconsistency in the Bishop of Southwark's remarks when he spoke so plainly about the thuggery in his area a week or so ago. He was immediately taken to task because he had at other times drawn attention to the ill effects of social deprivation in the formation of character. I was interested in the quotations that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, brought from the Bishop of Southwark. He spared your Lordships 272 the most vivid illustration of all, which told of the blind pensioner who three times had been knocked over and robbed while returning from the Post Office with what he described as his meagre pension.
It is curious that it has taken society so long to come to grips with the question of the support that is due to the victims of crime. We were given by the noble Lord, Lord Foot, a list of measures of recent years, and these, with the criminal injuries compensation scheme, can all be dated within the past 25 years. I suppose that that is partly because the increase in crime has forced this question upon us in a new way. When one bears in mind that there are 200 murders every year, and 500 if we count homicides; that there are 1,000 rapes every year—three a day; and that there are two million indictable crimes (many of them of course not terribly serious as the world counts seriousness) one realises that a trail of human suffering is being left behind after every single day and night of our national life. This suffering is partly physical, partly emotional and partly financial, and we must try to enter into all these different aspects of the loss and suffering that crime entails. I do not pretend that I come across it quite as frequently as my brother Bishop of Southwark, but I know that one of the little children of eight whose murder, preceded by rape, is described in the Working. Party's report, was the God child of one of my brother Bishops.
I recall that once when I was in a sleeper I was suddenly awakened by screams from next door and I felt that I had to make some kind of a show, as would a knight when a damsel was in distress. I found that when the train had stopped someone had rushed into the carriage and snatched the occupant's bag. She had lost everything that she needed for her journey: her money, her tickets, her passport; and naturally her distress was acute. These things are happening all the time and we pay much too little attention to them.
It is interesting to ask ourselves what exactly is the responsibility of society to the victims of crime. In war it is recognised that damage has to be compensated for. Presumably there is an understanding that it is the duty of the Government to preserve the nation in peace, and if they cannot do so they have to compensate financially. I suppose that there is a similar obligation resting upon any 273 Government to maintain peace and order in the streets and, so far as is possible, in the homes of the nation. Whether or not this can ever be done completely is more than doubtful. We welcome the steps towards the building up of the police force which we think will follow from yesterday's announcement; but unless we have another defence as well as the force of the police, I am afraid there will always be a great deal of crime and bullying of one kind and another.
The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, asked, among other things, what had created this unfortunate and tragic turn in our country's life. I certainly would say myself—and I had this in my notes before he spoke—that it is the absence of conscience more than anything else that is causing both the amount of crime and its unrestrained violence and cruelty. The old Church of England catechism, now much despised, had in it one clause which should he remembered. It was that part of our duty to our neighbour is to hurt nobody by word or deed. If only this could in some way or other be implanted again into the minds of our young people in particular, our lot might he happier than it is. I think it would be vain to expect the organised forces of religion to get this message across, but it is such a serious matter that I would suggest that the idols of youth, the "pop" stars, should in some way he invited and encouraged to help the nation in this way. They are making a very good thing out of the nation in many ways, and it would be a splendid thing if, when they get their thousands of people gathered at these "pop" concerts, they would say things and do things which really would plant in the minds of young people the idea that there is a difference between right and wrong and that one is infinitely preferable to the other.
But, my Lords, however we deal with the prevention of crime, we still have victims to deal with. They fall into two classes. They are, first, those in cases where the criminals are apprehended, and here I should like to follow the noble Lord, Lord Foot, and say that I should like to see the very first question which is considered in court being, "How can we obtain the maximum possible contribution towards reparation from the offender?" I should like to see this take precedence over everything else. It would, it is true, 274 as the noble Lord, Lord Foot, said, call for a radical reappraisal of many sentences, and I do not think that for a long time to come we can do without some kind of confinement system, because we have to deal with a nation which is so accustomed to seeing dangerous criminals put into custody for a time that I do not think it could possibly be persuaded to accept anything else over the whole spectrum of criminal activity. But whereas I think people might well be resistant to the idea of a different sentence for the benefit of the offender, they might react in another way to a different sentence for the benefit of the victim. I think there is something there that might well be considered.
Then, secondly, there are the many cases where the criminal is not caught or not identified, or, if he is, where he is totally unable to help. Here we come to the criminal injuries compensation scheme, and I should like to add my support to the points already made: that the grants ought to cover the loss of goods as well as the physical sufferings through violent crime; that the grants should be more adequate and more readily available; and that serious consideration should be given to the improvements already suggested in the inter-departmental report, which has, among other things, the suggestion that the domestic scene must in some way he brought into this field. All these things should, I think, if possible, be considered and carried forward.
The Bristol Victims' Support Scheme has proved itself one of those pioneering efforts which has lit a flame in this country, and there are now 40 such schemes in operation. I am sure that in due time they will receive Government support, but the immediate support that is needed is the willingness of police authorities to co-operate with them. I know of one area where police co-operation has been flatly refused. There may be many reasons for that, but I think we ought to encourage the police services to co-operate if they possibly can. I should like to go further and say that I should welcome the kind of personal reconciliation which the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has envisaged. I see very great difficulties in that, one thing being that many criminals, I fear, go to their sentences defiant, and even claiming that they are not guilty. There is a long pilgrimage to be made between that 275 attitude and anything that could be helpful in the way of personal confrontation. I think that just as there are certain sins of which the State feels it impossible to take cognisance, so there may be certain moral and spiritual achievements which the State must leave to others; but on the general principle behind the Unstarred Question of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, I am fully in support.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Earl RUSSELL
My Lords, I rise to raise the question of penal law and lawbreakers as such, and to question whether modern society is wise to speak in terms of law breakers at all. A modern nation looks after everybody and never punishes them. If it has a police force at all, the police force is the Salvation Army. and gives a hungry or thirsty people cups of tea. If a man takes diamonds from a shop in Hatton Garden you simply give him another bag of diamonds to take with him. I am not joking. Such is the proper social order for modern Western Europe, and all prisons ought to be abolished throughout its territories. Of course, the Soviet Union and the United States could include themselves in these reforms, too. Kindness and helping people is better than punitiveness and punishing them, and a constructive endeavour is better than a destructive spirit. If anybody is in need, you help him; you do not punish him. Putting children into care, and other forms of spiritual disinheritance ought to be stopped. Borstal ought to be stopped. And the workings of the Mental Health Act which empowers seizure of people by the police when they are acting in a way likely to be harmful to themselves or others, ought to be looked into.
What are you?—soulless robots? Schoolmasters who are harsh with schoolboys, who later as a result burn down the school house, ought to be more human. Schoolboys in any case are at present treated with an indescribable severity which crushes their spirits and leaves them unnourished. The police ought to be totally prevented from ever molesting young people at all or ever putting them into gaols and raping them and putting them into brothels, or sending them out to serve other people sexually against their wills. The spirit ought to be left free and chaining it has injured the creative 276 power of the nation. The young unemployed ought not in any way to have become separate from governmental power but ought to have been given enough to live on out of the national wealth to look after themselves and never ask themselves even to think of working while there is no work to be had.
Trade union thinking on this subject is wrong. Leisure is the point and working is wrong, being in any case the curse visited by God upon Adam, and not blessed. Upper classes are right, and should be restored to vogue and favour more than is the present custom to do. Automation in the factories, with universal leisure for all, and a standing wage sufficient to provide life without working ought to be supplied for all, so that everybody becomes a leisured aristocrat. Aristocrats are Marxist. The Lord Chancellor holds the Order of Lenin. The fulfilment of industrial life is Tonga and the South Sea Islands, and not the satanic mills at all. Shops ought to supply goods without payment, the funds to pay for the goods being supplied by the State, so that all motive for stealing vanishes. And, in a completely reorganised modern society, Women's Lib. would be realised by girls being given a house of their own at the age of 12, with three-quarters of the wealth of the State being given to the girls in houses of their own to support them; so that marriage would be abolished and a girl could have as many husbands as she liked; she would, of course, be free to choose only one, should she choose to do so. The men receive the remaining quarter of the national wealth to support them, and can, if they like, live in communal huts.
The full prospects of industrial civilisation ought to he realised: it is a boon, it should be called a boon, it should be used as a boon. The free spirit in school should be preserved, so that Sir Isaac Newton returns to us. Sweden and France have modernised themselves; all other nations in Europe, including Britain, should follow their example. A nation with industrial power should use it for benefit. There are other points in which a modernising nation modernising itself could improve its administration. For instance, lunatics could he looked after individually, and it could be found out what is missing from them, and the world which is missing from them could be 277 restored. The madness of the Cold War could also be removed by the whole human race, since it is quite evident that neither Communist not American exists, but only persons. What makes it abundantly clear is the saying of "little Audrey", who laughed and laughed because she knew that only God could make a tree. Mr. Brezhnev and Mr. Carter are really the same person: one lunatic certifiable, or, in American terms, one nation, indivisible, with prisonment and lunacy for all.
In a word, the entire human race can banish the Cold War, with one word, by simply saying: "You don't exist." This fact ought to be recognised in practice, with logical recognition by the statement concerned, so that the aims of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament can be realised, and there can be disarmament throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Insight into the truth of this statement must be acknowledged, so that logic may take hold of the mind.
The CIA should be banished from Western Europe, and Euro-communism should be substituted for the present bosses of the Common Market as the prevailing social and economic system in Europe. The Portuguese Revolution should be defended and emulated throughout Western Europe. President Carter should be brought to a full halt in his "Fulton Speech" programme for Europe, in which he mentioned Paris, Rome and Lisbon by name. There should be revolutions throughout Latin America, in accordance with the wish of His Holiness the Pope; and the CIA should be driven out from every nation of Latin America. The original Indian nation should be restored to sovereignty. It goes without saying that all prisoners throughout all these areas would be released and are released from prison and are no longer whipped and tortured.
Since the so-called Protestants who govern Britain, or claim to govern her, are spiritless papal bum-boys, if they cannot take charge of themselves and find the spirit, the confidence, the power to decide to remove British arms and all Protestants from Ulster, they should forthwith find the said confidence and power to remove them. There is no point in what calls itself the British Protestant Authority remaining a spiritless limbo any longer. All soldiers and police 278 throughout the Northern Hemisphere should disappear. They and their functions are no longer necessary and are out of date.
Such is the future which the human race requires and desires. It is very silly to ask every generation to moderate itself and palliate with old institutions and old fogeys when what is needed is modernisation. The plea that the Establishment should he preserved is the plea that the old ogres should be allowed to gobble up the younger generation. You may preserve the Establishment, but only if you introduce new institutions when they are needed. The modernisation of British Railways is a case in point. The total abolition of law and order is needed, and the police turn into the Salvation Army, as already observed, and always help people. There are no prisons or punishments.
These points are the chief requirements for the future of the human race. They should be realised briskly and with discipline. It can be noted in conclusion that, since the police and bourgeois bosses are and have been anti-aristocratical, this House is indisputably Marxist, and inherits the banner of the Red Army of the Soviet Union.
The habit of arresting young people and raping them in gaol is part of the plot which is designed to destroy the human race by making it subserve dead spirits instead of live ones; it is a craven fear of nature, arguing a mind and spirit cringingly afraid, unalive, and not itself. No wonder that, in these circumstances, the best and most creative products and political movements have not proceeded out of Europe, hut out of Africa where these practices do not prevail. Europe has been slighting herself; she has not been giving of her best to herself or to humanity. Forward the creative spirit! Leave people as nature made them, not indoor products of ersatz suffocation. And have the courage to do so. It is noteworthy that Tommy Atkins has lost every war he has fought in for the past 25 years by reason of these spiritual attritions; and that the United States and the CIA lost the war in Vietnam because they were spiritually subservient to death for these reasons.
The Ancient Greeks fought naked: they did not have solitary confinement 279 cells; not in the sense that we do so today, although the captives from the Athenian expedition to Syracuse were subjected to extreme hard labour in slave conditions. Naked bathing on beaches or in rivers ought to be universal. What is right is right. If, for reasons of present law or custom, or inward spiritual slavery, people do not reach these standards, it does not mean that they ought not to reach them. And is it not better to defend the city before it is fallen? Better than to arrive too late, and defend only what would have been, if it had not already gone? But the fact is that all oppressions can always be overthrown, and that it is never too late to overthrow them. After the oppression has declared itself, its harms to mankind are known: it is then easy to reprove them, and, hapless in its revealed injury to mankind, it is powerless to defend itself against the accusation of its guilt, and has to yield. It is helpless: the accused prisoner at the bar; hammerblow upon hammerblow of accusation and reproof can be hammered into it, and, like a fallen boxer, it cannot get up to defend itself—
§ Lord WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, would the noble Earl give way for a moment? I dislike doing this intensely, but the noble Earl has been speaking for 10 minutes. There is a Standing Order in your Lordships' House which requires a Member to speak to the Motion before the House. If the noble Earl will allow me to say so, I doubt very much whether it could be held that what he is saying is relevant to the Question before the House, which is on victims of crime. I must point that out.
§ 9.19 p.m.
§ Baroness SHARPLES
My Lords, may I first congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. He gave us an extremely constructive and intelligent approach to this whole subject and I am sure we all wish to hear him often again. May I also thank the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and his very hardworking committee, for their interim report. I know that it has taken a great deal of time and trouble.
We are all deeply concerned for those who suffer as a result of brutal assaults, mental or physical pain and financial loss. But the extent to which the State should 280 provide compensation is a matter which I feel should be considered as objectively as possible. Despite our being daily revolted by descriptions of attacks on young and old alike, there are various fundamental points which require very careful consideration.
In your Lordships' House we can speak from our own experience. Over five years ago, my husband was assassinated. It took me two years of nervous breakdowns and anorexia eventually to come to grips with the world again; but I know of two other widows who, like myself, feel no bitterness towards the killers of their husbands; only despair at the utterly futile loss of life. I personally received a pension which compensated me for the loss of income, but I also would have felt a deep revulsion if a capital sum had been put on my husband's life.
Is there not a realdanger that if too much money is available to compensate victims of violence it will in effect underwrite the activities of the criminals and might even encourage avarice? Surely, where harm suffered by a victim can be measured in financial terms, compensation should be standardised as far as possible; and so, in the public interest, any compensation should, in all cases, be determined in the courts where proceedings are open and can be challenged, unlike the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.
How can the death of a child, a husband or wife be measured in monetary terms, and especially in cases of rape? There are no means of quantifying what is appropriate. From my own point of view, I do not think it is callous to take this line. However, I would urge that the State should ensure that medical and psychological aid are promptly given—and I mean promptly, because I can speak from experience when I say that it is on the initial shock that one needs help most—and generously provided for the victims of the ever-increasing violence in our streets and homes.
Why not set up rehabilitation centres similar to those connected with Alcoholics Anonymous, so that those who have suffered in many different ways will find that they are not the only ones who need help and rehabilitation? Hopefully, their feelings of outrage would fade. Please, would the noble Lord who is to reply for the Government consider pensions being 281 given in far more cases than occurs at present, with capital compensation being given in far fewer cases?
§ 9.24 p.m.
§ Baroness PHILLIPS
My Lords, may I first of all compliment the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and his Committee on this excellent report. It represents many hours of hard work and deep research, and the noble Earl has approached this with his usual great sense of compassion. I should like also, quite humbly, to compliment our maiden speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, who also spoke with great depth of feeling and compassion. We know we shall have the pleasure of hearing him many times again.
I should like at once to take one of the quotations from the Report:The victim is largely neglected by our criminal justice system in so far as his evidence may contribute to secure a conviction".I wish, in a way, to take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Foot. Certainly, both as a magistrate and a citizen, of recent years I have gained the impression that the offender receives far more consideration than the victim. Speaking recently at a training course for new magistrates, Mr. Justice Boreham said:It is your duty, as mine, to maintain the rule of law, to maintain order and to enable decent people to live in peace and happiness. It is very easy to run away from this. One hears of burglary now so often that it is a commonplace, and some would regard it almost as a trivial offence".This is the important point. He went on:You ask the lady whose home has been contaminated by a burglar, and ask her how long it took her to get the foul taste out of her mouth and the fear out of her heart".In other words, there is no true compensation for the victim. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharpies, said, it can only relieve the discomfort, the pain or the loss in some minute way. There can really be no compensation for the loss of a limb, of an eye or, even more, for a much-loved husband, wife or child.
It was always accepted that the police were at risk in the performance of their duties, but now all kinds of workers suffer from violent attacks. There is the teacher and I am chairman of the governors of a school—the taxicab driver; the bus conductor, many of whom have now refused to go on the late shifts, and even some of us, as we leave the House at 282 night and wonder whether we shall get home safely, such are the conditions in the Metropolis; the ticket collector; to say nothing of the Post Office worker; the social security official who has been violently molested; and now we even have the clerk in the court and the shop assistant.
I can give your Lordships many examples, but I shall mention only one. Two women entered a shop in Manchester and were recognised as known thieves by the manageress, who watched them carefully. This was enough for the two women, who suddenly turned on the manageress, knocked her to the ground, beat her head on the terrazzo floor and punched her violently around the face. The sales assistant who came to her aid was beaten severely on her hand. Up to a year later, the manageress was still suffering from impaired vision and was told that her vision was unlikely to improve. The two women attackers were charged with assault under Section 1 of the Offences Against the Person Act, and both were conditionally discharged for 12 months. The Criminal Injuries Board awarded the manageress the princely sum of £600.
We cannot divorce the belief of the victims from the feeling that they do not even obtain justice in our society. One element of any case with which one deals—and this we seem frightened to say nowadays—must be retribution. If society does not exact retribution, then people will take matters into their own hands. Many people do not even have any idea that they can apply for compensation. Again we have the comparison. The Judges' Rules require that the offender shall be protected and informed of his rights, and there is constant reiteration of this in our media.
I can quote the case of a little shopkeeper in my own locality, who was attacked. He lost the sight of one eye and was offered the princely sum of £300. Luckily for him, there was a friend who worked in one of the legal courts. He took up his case and the shopkeeper eventually received £1,750 from the Criminal Injuries Board, in the same week as the Queen's Bench Division had awarded £22,000 to the victim of a similar offence. When one considers that State compensation amounts to only £9½Prison Service is over million, that 98 per cent. of all the awards are under £5,000 283 and that 91 per cent. are under £1,000 whereas the cost of the Prison Service is over £200 million a year, it soon becomes apparent that we should have a system of reparation which must be made to work. To use the words of the report,The courts must forge ahead with a sentencing policy, using powers which they already have to place more of the onus of compensation on convicted offenders ".I recall the occasion when an organisation with which I was concerned sent a mild resolution to the then Home Secretary suggesting that young people who vandalised estates and painted on walls should be set to work to put right the results of their labours, if they can be described as such. The Home Secretary seemed to think that this was rather reminiscent of what went on in Nazi Germany. In Nazi Germany, however, the victims were selected not because they had done anything wrong but because they were the victims of a very terrible system of government. In this case, it would be a mild and just form of reparation.
I very much confirm the statement that the victim, if not required as a witness, may not be given any notification of either the time or the result of the offender's trial. Quite recently I helped a 17-year old boy who had been attacked by a gang of three others on his way home at night. He was badly beaten and did not even know who were his attackers. Indeed, the crime was completely motiveless. Subsequently the three boys were arrested for another offence, admitted this crime and were given small fines. Imagine the feelings of the victim when he merely read about this in the local paper. He did not feel that he had been in any way involved in this offence which was committed against him.
As we have heard, quite apart from the publication of this excellent report, several distinguished people have spoken out this week about the situation of the victim in our society. The right reverend Prelate spoke against the sympathy shown to thugs and hooligans and asked for this sympathy to be transferred to the victim. How much do I underline this plea! Then his Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh, told us that the clue to a relaxed society is the behaviour of individuals, whatever their responsibilities or the level of their intelligence. I endorse 284 entirely the findings of this report. I plead with the Government to ensure that at least some of its excellent recommendations are put into effect before there are many more victims who feel not only a sense of rejection but a sense also of complete injustice.
§ 9.33 p.m.
§ Lord ALLEN of ABBEYDALE
My Lords, I should like to begin by adding my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, for his very notable contribution. I have had many dealings with him in various capacities over the years. It is entirely in character that he should choose to make his maiden speech on a humanitarian subject: about people suffering from some of the ills in our society.
At this late stage of the evening I propose to be brief and to limit myself to two main points. My first point is that I have spent a good deal of my career dealing with penal matters and have always been nagged by the constantly expressed criticism that we care a great deal about the offender but sadly neglect the victim. The difficulties are obviously immense. In particular, the resources of the offender so often simply do not match, and could in no circumstances be made to match, the damage to life or property which he may have caused. Also, too often the offender is not even caught and convicted.
I was, however, glad that both the noble Earl who introduced this Unstarred Question and the noble Lord, Lord Foot, took the point that it would be wrong to conclude that during the last few months people had begun to think for the first time about compensation for victims. Although this is a little out of sympathy with the rest of the debate, I should like to say a word about what has been achieved in this country. On so many issues one is accustomed to hearing how much better they do it in foreign parts, but in this particular context, at any rate according to the masterly review by the great authority, Sir Leon Radzinowicz in his recent book, this country, if anything, tends to be in the lead. Apart from the help available under our extensive social security system, which is not to be underrated, it seems to me that in recent years we have made a fourfold advance, some of which has been touched on in 285 the debate this evening. First, there is the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, about which we have heard a good deal, where although we were not the first in the field—as so often happens the New Zealanders had that honour—we were not very far behind and it is interesting that quite a number of other countries since then have followed the pattern that we set. We now have this consultative document suggesting various possible improvements and I shall myself have a little more to say about the Board when I come to my second main heading.
Then there are the powers of the courts—which in the Criminal Justice Act 1972 were extended and rationalised—powers to order compensation. No doubt the courts could do much more. Certainly there have been problems of enforcement and it is perfectly true, as the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said, that the courts have not made many orders in respect of convictions for personal violence, partly, I suspect in addition to the reason which he gave, because the courts have tended to look to the Compensation Board to meet these cases. But the fact remains, as the criminal statistics show, that in 1976—the last year for which figures arc available—over 73,000 persons had compensation orders of some kind made against them in the magistrates' courts and something over 5,500 had orders made against them in the Crown Court. No one would claim for a moment that perfection has been reached, but these are not derisory figures.
Then there were the provisions of the 1972 Act, which I do not think have been referred to in the debate, introducing the concept of criminal bankruptcy. The Advisory Council on the Penal System said in their recent report, on which we had some exchanges at Question Time this afternoon, that this novel remedy has not so far proved to be an outstanding success but the germ of a useful idea is there and the improvement suggested by the Council ought to improve its efficacy.
Then fourth in this little list is the development (to which a number of speakers have referred), outside Government, of the victim support schemes. I speak with perhaps some little bias on this as a former chairman of the National Council of Social Service, but it seems to me that this is a peculiarly suitable area 286 for the use of voluntary effort, and I hope that perhaps the Home Office might look with some benevolence on this particular aspect of work when it is a question of allocating funds to further the organisation of voluntary effort. I hope, too, that local authorities as well as the police and the Probation Service will view these efforts with sympathy. I am not for a moment suggesting that these various developments in sum go anywhere near to solving the problem, or that there is any room for complacency, but I think it is worth saying that more is being done than perhaps many people recognise, and, having listened to the very interesting contribution from the right reverend Prelate, I cannot resist quoting that little extract from Psalms:for the needy shall not alway be forgotten".I have dwelt on these four developments at some slight length because it is my own view that the way ahead is probably to extend and develop these various provisions, and I would myself view with considerable reservations proposals to appoint yet another specialised Minister and yet more pieces of bureaucratic machinery. But I shall wait with interest the comments on these particular proposals of the noble Lord who winds up.
I now come briefly to my second main point. The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, referred to the Royal Commission on Civil Liabilities, to the Pearson Report. I was a member of that Royal Commission, and I should like to say just a few words about the conclusions we came to which bear on the work in particular of the Compensation Board. Of course, not everyone accepts the basis on which the Board operates. The doubts which the noble Baroness expressed in her very moving speech are, I know, shared by some other people, and some of the evidence that the Commission received was not terribly sympathetic towards the maintenance of a separate Board. In particular Professor Atiyah, who is an outstanding authority on compensation, has made some uncomfortably trenchant criciticisms of the decision to select one particular group of unfortunates for special treatment, and has criticised the fact that the scheme set up to compensate victims has found among its main category of beneficiaries those who are themselves members of the 287 police force. But I would myself go along with the conclusion of the Royal Commission that the scheme is justified, as we rather tendentiously put it,… as in some measure salving the nation's conscience at its inability to preserve law and order ".In New Zealand, the pioneers, there is no longer a separate scheme. It was all absorbed into their general accident compensation scheme. We on the Commission were not suggesting a general scheme for this country, and we thought that there was a good case for preserving the separate Board.
But the Board in the main follows the practices of the civil courts, and the changes which the Commission recommended for the courts, if mirrored in the proceedings of the Board, would have pretty far-reaching effects. I have in mind, for example, the proposals that periodic payments instead of lump sums should be introduced for serious cases; that there could be awards for loss of society, and that no damages should be awarded for non-pecuniary loss suffered during the first three months after the date of injury. Then there is, too, the basic recommendation that tort and social security compensation should he looked at as a whole, and that the full value of the social security benefits should be offset against the tort award. This would, oddly enough, bring the courts into line with what, as I understand it, is already in theory the remit of the Board, and I suspect that this difference between the principles on which the courts and the Board operate is one of the reasons why awards by the Board sometimes seem to be less than corresponding awards by the courts.
§ The Earl of LONGFORD
My Lords, may I intervene on a point of clarification? Would the noble Lord suggest that, under what I may call his plan for the moment, instead of bringing the awards of the Board up to those of the courts they would bring the awards of the courts down to those of the Board? Is that the idea?
§ Lord ALLEN of ABBEYDALE
My Lords, in calculating the net result, that is, the tort award minus the social security benefits, yes—
§ Lord ALLEN of ABBEYDALE
—it would be bringing the courts into line with what is now, in theory, the practice of the Board. But in fact at present the Board in this respect has an impossible assignment. The courts for their part cannot hope to discharge with accuracy their present more limited statutory responsibility of deducting half the value of certain social security benefits for five years, as they have no means of knowing what the increases in social security benefits will be during the latter part of those five years. How much more difficult for the Board! How can it possibly know how to calculate a deduction from a lump sum payment so as to take account of future social security payments, which will be periodic payments increased from time to time according to changes in the cost of living?
The Royal Commission has suggested how these extraordinarily difficult problems might be tackled in the future, and it has certainly made one of its main recommendations that the two compensation systems should no longer be treated as rather separate and having very little to do with each other. I am not naive enough to think that the Government may not come across some trifling problems in implementing these recommendations, or to expect that when the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, winds up he will be able to say tonight that Her Majesty's Government have already come to some conclusions on the Pearson recommendations. But the eventual outcome of all this—and I hope that it will not be too eventual—will be very relevant to the functioning of the Board and to the amount of compensation that victims of crime may look to receive from the Board.
So, the issues that we are discussing tonight are of themselves by no means static, and lurking behind them are these even more difficult and profound problems about the causation and prevention of crime, on which a number of noble Lords have touched in the course of their speeches. I, personaily, am conscious that I have been somewhat diffident and cautious, but listening to what the noble Lord, Lord Foot, said in opening, perhaps I need not be too apologetic about that. I should 291 like to end by adding my thanks to the noble Earl for giving us this opportunity to reflect a little on questions which are of great importance to many of our less fortunate fellow citizens—indeed, too many of them for our comfort.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ The Earl of MANSFIELD
My Lords, may I first congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Longford, on enabling us to discuss aspects of crime which many do not believe receive the weight of consideration which they deserve. With those good wishes I think that we should all wish to record our appreciation to the noble Earl for having had the initiative to set up his working party on Victims, as it is called. Noble Lords, I am sure, will equally agree that such a body is long overdue. If I may say so, the establishment of this body will add considerably to the status of those who take part in such discussions and deliberations.
One of the most frequently heard complaints—and a number of noble Lords have echoed this tonight—about those who advocate penal reform is that they seem to show much more concern for the offender than the victim. That general and rather bitter attitude on the part of many members of the public makes more humane and imaginative treatment of offenders more difficult to bring about. Therefore, if I may say so, I think that the establishment of this working party may have important effects which may not have been contemplated by all of those on the working party.
My second and most pleasant task is to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, on what I thought was a powerful and, if I may so call it, model of a maiden speech. The paths of the noble Lord and I crossed years ago—he may remember, I certainly do. If I say that his speech was what I personally expected, I can really pay him no higher praise. It was a model of lucidity, constructive and at the same time entertaining enough to hold the attention for every one of the minutes that it lasted. I look forward not only to resuming our acquaintanceship, but to debating across the Floor of this House, with, hopefully, positions in the Chamber reversed.
292 I want to return to the noble Earl's Question, because it seems to me that the debate has roamed fairly widely this evening. It is not at all surprising that it should. In fact, we have had a good, thorough-going debate on crime and punishment, law reform and so on. However, I think that it is proper to remind ourselves that what the noble Earl was actually asking Her Majesty's Government was:… what steps they will take to promote an active policy in aid of victims of crime".Of course, in many ways it is impossible to divorce victims of crime from the persons who perpetrate the crimes. But I think that we should try to do so, because if one does not, one cannot take an objective and logical look at the situation. A number of noble Lords have touched on this.
It seems to me that the question of aid to victims falls into three parts. First, I speak to financial reparation. That can be made by the offender to the victim either following a judgment in a civil suit or by payment made under a compensation order following a conviction under the Criminal Justice Act 1972. A number of noble Lords have talked about these compensation orders. I have a very personal recollection because the Criminal Justice Act 1972 was the first in which I took part in your Lordships' House; I drafted my first set of Amendments and put them down for discussion. I said then that I did not think that the then Government's proposals would bring about the desired effect. It gives me no pleasure to say that I was right. Unfortunately, I was too green and I was also against the ferocious debating skills of my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross, who at that time was a Minister of State in your Lordships' House. I did not push the Amendments in a manner in which they deserved to have been pushed and which I have seen in retrospect they needed to be pushed.
Nevertheless, one has only to see from the statistics—and the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, referred to them—the success or otherwise of these compensation orders. He went into the actual number of orders made. I think that I would prefer to go by percentages, because if one looks at the 1976 figures, the percentage of persons ordered to pay compensation, expressed as a percentage 293 of the number convicted, was no more than 21 per cent. in magistrates' courts and 8 per cent. in Crown Courts. Statistics are unreliable in the sense that they do not really help an argument along very much or, putting the matter in another way, other statistics can usually be brought to confound them. But it is disturbing. Various matters have been advanced to your Lordships to account for the low level of these compensation orders. However, I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, what is the thought of the Government at the moment over the matter of compensation orders? Is there any thought in the Government's mind that the position might be improved?
One of the reasons why the number is so low is that the court has really no contact with the victim. The victim has not got any right to be heard, still less to make an application for compensation, so that if a compensation order is made it is a sort of by-product of the court process and it only occurs, as I suggest, either if it is in the minds of the bench or the judge or if the police, on their own initiative, do something about it. One can see that because in the next table—and again as a percentage—no less than 70 per cent. of these compensation orders are made in cases of criminal damage; that is, 70 per cent. as a percentage of persons sentenced. So one can say that in magistrates' courts in cases of criminal damage the magistrates are very minded to make a compensation order, but in other cases such as, for instance, theft or the unauthorised taking of a motor vehicle, where the percentage is only 9 per cent., the figure is much lower probably because it does not occur to the court to make an order.
Of course there are other considerations such as the means of the offender to pay, and matters such as those. Nevertheless, it is worth the Government having a look at the situation—perhaps they have—and telling us to what conclusion they come, if any. It is also fair to say that the Longford Committee did not really argue the case for compensation orders very extensively, or, if it did, I did not read it. It may be that that is something which will occupy the committee at a later stage; I do not know.
I want to come now to my second head, and come to it pretty rapidly. It is the 294 Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme and the Board. It is obvious that there are a number of unsatisfactory features about the scheme. The first is the delay. It is obvious—and every one of your Lordships is agreed—that what somebody who is a victim needs is swift, sympathetic treatment, and that must apply to financial compensation as well as to any other care. That is something which has been touched on already, and I suggest is something which the Government may care to consider.
Second is the question of amounts. My noble friend Lady Sharples dealt with the question of capital payments. It seems to me that in a very large number of cases—and I think that the various reports bear this out—what really ought to be thought about is periodical payments and not chunks by way of capital, which it is difficult to assess. It is difficult to assess in any circumstances, and particularly difficult where the victim is the subject of some sort of criminal offence and has been injured. But this is something for the future. I only point out that, as it is at the moment, the scheme is far from satisfactory. I do not believe that the working party comes to any very great or very happy conclusion in its report.
The third and final matter about which I want to talk for a few moments is the exciting concept of the noble Earl's working party, and that is to say assistance on a non-financial note, if I may so call it, to the victims of crime at an appropriate level and of an appropriate character. In many cases we cannot expect to compensate victims of crime in terms of cash. That is extremely difficult, apart from anything else.
In his report the noble Earl spends a little time talking about, for instance, the victims of fraud. It is pertinent to point out that while in many cases there is a great deal of evil displayed by the criminal who extracts the money from the victim, in many cases the victims are fairly foolish and are to some extent the authors of their own hurt. I should find it difficult, for instance, to lay down a statutory framework for the compensation of those people. It may be that they can be helped by receiving some kind of social benefit. However, I really wonder if one can go beyond that.
295 The noble Earl touches on burglary cases in his report. If people cannot be bothered to insure their possessions, how far should the community recompense them in monetary terms for the loss of their belongings? I fully understand the sense of outrage and the fact that their feelings may be hurt. Indeed their nerves may be shattered by what has happened. That is a different matter. But when one counts the loss of their belongings in monetary terms, it is difficult, if not impossible, to come to any conclusion regarding assistance by the State.
Where compensation in a non-financial manner is contemplated, much of what the noble Earl says is imaginative and could be implemented to a degree by the Government without a large allocation of scarce resources. If, as has happened, local voluntary organisations can be interested to take care of the victims of crime, that is deserving of study and, if necessary, implementation.
In the end, however much one talks about the victims of crime, one comes back to the offender and the level of crime. The object of the exercise in the end must be to lower the crime rate. I have always held to the view, both at the Bar and since, that the certainty of detection and conviction and, where appropriate, punishment, provide the best hope for the community and for the victims of crime. I hope that the Government are taking a view of this which is similar to my own. I think that they are doing so, somewhat belatedly, with police pay. This is the goal which should be before the community: to reduce the crime rate and therefore the incidence of these horrifying cases of the victims of crime.
§ 10.3 p.m.
§ Lord WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, my first words must be to congratulate my noble friend Lord Mishcon on what proved to be in many ways a remarkable maiden speech. I am sure that your Lordships look forward to the next occasion when he participates in your Lordships' debates. I am particularly pleased to have this opportunity of replying on behalf of the Government because of a fairly long association that I had with delinquents, albeit a good many years ago. I am sorry that this important matter did not come earlier 296 in the day, when more of your Lordships could have been present and participated.
It would be unfortunate if members of your Lordships' House and the public generally went away thinking that this was a matter to which the Government has not paid great attention. Perhaps one can say that the implication of my noble friend's Question might lead people to believe that there is no active policy in aid of victims of crime, when in fact I am hoping that enough has been said tonight by different noble Lords, as well as by what I shall say, to leave no doubt in people's minds that there is an active policy in this area, albeit perhaps not active enough, albeit perhaps not going as far as it should.
§ The Earl of LONGFORD
My Lords, I do not want the noble Lord to be under any misapprehension. My view is that there is not—I repeat "not"—an active policy in aid of victims on the part of the Government. The noble Lord may begin to unfold one and before night falls we may learn that one is to come about, but I tabled the Question because it was my way of expressing the conviction that there is not an active policy in aid of victims.
§ Lord WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, if I am allowed to continue, I might get to the stage of being able to satisfy the House that there is. The Government are conscious of the appalling effects on victims and their dependants, not only of crimes of violence but also of theft and damage to property. In the last 20 years or so a great deal has been done to ensure that, in so far as money can compensate for the loss and suffering incurred, appropriate compensation is available, and this country is certainly not lagging behind others in these matters. In fact we have a very good record compared with other countries.
I do not want to refer to the past other than to say that the 1959 White Paper Penal Practice in a Changing Societycame into being for no other reason than the fact that the then Government recognised that perhaps far too much attention was being given to the offender and not enough to the victim. After considerable public discussion, 1964 saw the introduction of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme, which 297 was almost the first of its kind in the world and has served as a model for schemes introduced since in many other countries.
It was stated in the White Paper explaining the proposed scheme that the Government did not accept that the State was or should be liable for injuries caused to people by the acts of others. Nevertheless, in spite of that, the Government were responsible, as I say, for a number of ways by which the needs of the victims of crime could be considered and they could be compensated. It is significant that during the years of public discussion which preceded the introduction of this scheme for compensation for criminal injury to the person, a similar strength of feeling did not emerge in relation to loss of, or damage to, property. That was no doubt largely because normal insurance cover is generally available as protection against such loss or damage, whereas it is not normal practice in this country to insure against assault on the person. It probably also reflected an implicit faith that an assault upon the person is a greater outrage than an assault on property, however distressing the latter might be.
The Government, like their predecessors, while sympathetic to the distress which can arise in cases of damaged property, take the view that in matters of property generally the responsibility must rest with the individual to take out such insurance as he considers necessary.
I do not want to say a great deal about reparation. Apart from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, to which I shall return, there was the comprehensive report published by the Advisory Council on the Penal System in 1970 on Reparation by the Offender. The Criminal Justice Act 1972 and the Powers of the Criminal Courts Act 1973 gave effect to many of the Council's recommendations, which were intended to ensure that personal reparation by the offender should be given a more prominent place in the penal system. We know that stemming from that was the community service order which in some way recognises the responsibility to the victim. We have had examples of it and the courts are using it, but I recognise that, so far as I know, it does not involve the confrontation of victims and offenders 298 to which my noble friend Lord Longford referred.
But if I may come to compensation orders, perhaps the most obvious form of reparation is financial compensation by the offender. As a result of the Advisory Council's recommendations, the criminal courts in England and Wales have now a widespread and wide-ranging general power which enables them, when dealing with a convicted offender, to order him to pay compensation for any personal injury, loss or damage caused by the offence, or any offence which is taken into account by the court in determining sentence. While the maximum amount of compensation which a magistrates' court may order to be paid is £1,000, no such limit applies so far as the Crown Court is concerned. When making a compensation order the court is required to take into account the ability of the offender to pay from future earnings as well as from his existing resources. The onus is upon the court to order compensation in appropriate cases without an application from the victim, but the victim may make such an application and generally it is in his own best interests to do so.
The courts make considerable use of compensation orders. The Home Office Research Unit has recently published a report—to which a number of noble Lords referred—which showed that in a national study of compensation orders made in magistrates' courts in a particular week of 1974, such orders were made in 90 per cent. of cases of criminal damage and in 60 per cent. of cases for theft and burglary, but, I admit, only in 9 per cent. of cases of wounding and assault. The hesitation on the part of magistrates to make orders in cases of personal injury is understandable. This was referred to by my noble friend Lord Mishcon as well as by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield. Individual magistrates, and we must face this fact, do not have the opportunity to acquire experience in assessing readily the amount of compensation appropriate for particular injuries. I understand that the Magistrates' Association has been studying this problem and proposes to produce guidelines to assist magistrates in the assessment of compensation appropriate for the most common types of injury. It is expected that such guidance will enable the courts to make greater 299 use of these powers to order compensation in cases of personal injury. The victims of minor injuries are seen as the probable principal beneficiaries of such orders, which should help to provide compensation in those cases which fall below the lower limit of £150 applicable to awards under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.
As with other payments due to the court, enforcement of compensation orders presents problems, and research indicates that generally the difficulty of enforcement increases in proportion to the amount due to be paid. The courts, however, have a variety of means at their disposal for enforcing payment—these include the making of money payment supervision orders, attachment of earnings orders, and warrants of distress. It is for the courts to use these powers to the full to ensure that the offender meets his obligations and that the victims are duly compensated.
With regard to restitution orders, your Lordships will know—because it has been mentioned—that the 1972 Act also widened the powers of the courts to require that property or money in the possession of an offender at the time of his arrest should be used for restitution or reparation to the victim. This was to supplement the existing provisions of the Theft Act 1968, which allow for the stolen goods to be restored to the owner, even if they have passed to a third party, or for restitution to be made in the form of other goods or money. This applies not only to Crown Courts, but also to magistrates' courts. Your Lordships will also know of the innovation in the Criminal Justice Act 1972 in which power was given to the Crown Court to make a criminal bankruptcy order in addition to dealing with an offender in any other way. Such an order may be made in a case where the amount of loss or damage arising from a crime exceeds £15,000 and the identity of the person or persons who suffered the loss is known to the court. The purpose of the provision is to enable the recovery of assets for the benefit of the criminal bankrupt's creditors. The Advisory Council on the Penal System has recently been reviewing this provision and has recommended extending its use by lowering the limit to £10,000. The Government are currently considering this proposal.
300 I do not want to spend too much time on the provisions of the deferred sentence which was introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 1972, which gave courts, in appropriate cases, the power to defer passing sentence for up to six months after conviction. This enabled the court, before finally adjudicating as to what sentence to impose upon an offender, to consider what he would be able to do in the interim six months. It has resulted in many defendants being able to get jobs, and it has put them in a position whereby the court has been able to make orders. I believe that this has made quite a contribution towards the benefit of victims.
I do not think that it is always appreciated that the nature of police work means that policemen are often in close contact with the victims of crime. They are obviously very much in contact with the offenders, but they are also very much in contact with the victims. It is to the police that the victims nearly always turn first, and we must acknowledge the very considerable help which the police give in relieving the natural distress of people against whom a criminal offence has been committed. Very often the police are able to advise victims of their rights to apply for compensation for criminal injuries, and the police often help them with their applications for compensation and restitution orders from the courts. In addition, the police are often in a position to give advice to victims who may need more long-term rather than short-term help. In appropriate cases they will call on the resources of the social services. They have also co-operated in the establishment of victims' support schemes in some areas, and they play an extremely important part in the day-to-day operation of such schemes. The whole question of the victims' support schemes has been referred to by more than one noble Lord, and I would only say that there are about 40 schemes in existence in the country at present, as the right reverend Prelate reminded us.
Bearing in mind the Wolfenden Report on Voluntary Organisations, which recently drew a considerable amount of attention and focussed upon the importance of voluntary work, this is a field which, as I said, has suddenly leapt into the limelight, and there are something 301 like 40 schemes in operation at the moment. Whether one can hold out any hope that these can be financed by central Government I should not be prepared to say at this stage, other than that, bearing in mind that they are local schemes, one would have thought that they would perhaps be more suitable for grant-aiding from the local authority point of view and could come within the ambit of local authority social work.
One point of criticism on the treatment of victims has been that the way in which the criminal justice system operates can have the apparent effect of neglecting the victim once the offender has been found and the wheels of the judicial process have been set in motion. We recognise that if the defendant pleads guilty the participation of the victim may not be necessary, and unless he, the victim, takes the trouble to make inquiries and actively to follow up the developments, he may never hear the final outcome. This is a situation which we recognise happens, but I think I must say that to some extent the onus and the responsibility must be on the victim to pursue the matter. I find it extremely difficult to believe that there is a large number of victims who are involved in this way and who, simply because there is a plea of guilt, take no further interest in the proceedings. The court is well served by probation officers, and in matters of this kind they would be only too pleased to assist the victim and advise him of what he can do.
I do not deny that perhaps more should be done to involve the victim in the process, both for his own satisfaction and for the general good of the system. There are experiments going on. There are arrangements in parts of the United States of America to bring together, with the help of skilled conciliators, the victim and the offender. One would like to see this, but let us face the fact, my Lords, that it is an extremely difficult thing to do. It is going to take, I think, a great deal of (shall I say?) counselling before one can reach that kind of situation. Ordinary matrimonial reconciliation is such that, very often, it takes a lot of counselling before you can see husband and wife together, because of the deep-seated emotions and reactions that one has for the other. This, if it could be done, would be absolutely ideal, and the 302 voluntary efforts that are going on in various parts of the country may well result in its being done.
My Lords, I should like to return now to the criminal injuries compensation scheme, which is the main direct contribution which the State makes for the benefit of victims of crime. It is perhaps inevitable that a scheme which is concerned with establishing eligibility for monetary awards, and which involves dealing with claims of victims who are seeking satisfaction for a very substantial grievance, should come in for criticism from time to time, either in relation to particular cases or on general questions of interpretation and procedure. Considering how many thousands of applications are handled by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board each year the number of complaints is remarkably small, and this, I think, says a great deal for the Board and the staff who operate these schemes with, I believe, impartiality and great care. It is a fact that, judging from crime figures, there appear to be many victims of criminal injury who do not submit their claims to the Board. I do not pretend, nor do the Government, to know the reason why this is so. It seems unlikely that lack of publicity is the cause. It is now a matter of regular routine throughout the country for the police to provide victims with a free leaflet about the scheme to enable them to make prompt application to the Board where appropriate. In addition, the leaflet is available in Citizens' Advice Bureaux and the public inquiry offices of Government Departments. A more relevant consideration is perhaps that a large number of the injuries sustained are comparatively slight and would be unlikely to attract an award in excess of the Board's minimum payment of £150.
My noble friend Lord Longford and others referred—I was going to say the "stinginess" of the award, which is my word rather than theirs—to the level of the award by comparison with the level of common law damages in the civil courts upon whose practice the Board bases its assessments. Generally, I should like to think that this criticism does not stand up to close scrutiny because the Board follows very closely the practice of the courts and any variations are probably no greater than those which become evident when the practices of different courts are compared.
§ The Earl of LONGFORD
My Lords, may I interrupt? I am sure that the noble Lord followed closely the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbey-dale, who sat on the Pearson Commission, I understood the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, to say there is a clear discrepancy, that the civil payments are distinctly higher than those of the Board, and he appeared to be recommending that the civil payments should come down to the level of the Board's. They could not come down to the level of the Board —which is the question I put to him—if they were on that level already. The noble Lord does not appear to agree with the expert testimony of Lord Allen of Abbeydale.
§ Lord WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, I understood the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, to say that this was due to the fact that the Board was taking into consideration other payments.
§ Lord ALLEN of ABBEYDALE
My Lords, may I intervene at this point? I was saying that, as I understand it, the Board is obliged to deduct the whole of the social security payments and the courts are obliged to deduct one-half of certain social security payments over a period of five years; so that the end sums will be different in the two cases and in some instances must come out lower for the Board than for the courts. What Pearson was recommending was that the courts should be brought into line with the Board.
§ Lord WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, I accept that; but what I am saying is that the difference between the two is not all that great. The Board is very conscious of the need for consistency in the level of its awards and for maintaining parity with the civil courts. To this end, the Board members participate periodically in assessment exercises together with members of the Judiciary and eminent Queen's counsel who lend their services in order to put to the test the Board's consistency and to help ensure that the correct levels of awards are maintained. In the most recent of these exercises, the Board members' assessments were all broadly in accord with those of the judges and Queen's counsel. In addition, the very small number of complaints about the level of awards made suggests 304 that there is no widespread feeling that the Board's awards are inadequate.
Some people feel that the annual sum of about £10 million which the Board pays out in compensation is meagre compared with the amount of public money disbursed for other purposes. It must be remembered, however, that the Board's awards are related to the demands it receives in the form of applications and that, in general, the fullest possible compensation consistent with the practice of the civil courts is awarded in respect both of pain and suffering and of loss of earnings. In this context, I should like to quote the important work of Edelhertz and Geis who in their 1974 study of compensation schemes in various countries remarked:The British Criminal Injuries Compensation Board supervises the operation of the major program in the field of victim compensation. The British Board has paid out more money to victims of crime than the total compensation in all the programs in the United States, not only in the period since its inception in 1964 but also in each of the years of its existence.I want to say just a few words about lump sum awards. This was referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Mansfield. Occasionally there is criticism of the Board's practice of making awards in the form of lamp sum payments. This point has been considered by a working party which has reviewed the scheme and about which I could say more if I had the time. The working party was satisfied that in the majority of cases a lump sum remained the most appropriate form of payment, but it recommended that the Board retain its existing discretion to make special arrangements for the administration of money awarded as compensation in appropriate cases. These include the cases of minors, those of persons of unsound mind, those who have suffered such severe injuries that they will remain for the rest of their lives unable to administer large sums of money, and those cases where the offender stands to benefit from a lump sum payable to the victim.
I am also aware that there have been criticisms of delay. The staffing difficulties which, in the face of a steady and substantial annual increase in the number of applications received, have led to some delays in settling cases, have been acknowledged in the Board's annual 305 reports and I know that steps are being taken to deal with the arrears and to try to effect a system whereby people will in future get settlements within a few months. One has always in matters of this kind to look—shall I say?—at the staffing situation.
I think that the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, implied that the working party on the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board were against the provision of legal aid for appearance before the Board. I do not think that this is quite the case. Let me put it as I understand it. The working party noted that the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee has recommended that legal aid should be extended to all statutory tribunals at present within the supervision of the Council on Tribunals in which representation is permitted, and for any new tribunals which may in future be created and brought within the Council's jurisdiction and for which legal representation is allowed. If the scheme becomes statutory, it will almost certainly come under the supervision of the Council on Tribunals, and it is probable that any provisions relating to legal aid for proceedings before administrative tribunals generally would apply to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.
§ Lord MISHCON
My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend would allow me to say a few words by way of explanation. The usual view is that it may take a very long time before this becomes a statutory body. In the meantime, there are so many victims of violence who are denied the possibility of this advocacy. I hope that consideration could be given while this is not a tribunal to make legal aid available for that advocacy.
§ Lord WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, I cannot do more than to take note of what my noble friend has said, and pass that on to my right honourable friend. It would however be difficult to justify allowing legal aid for hearings before this Board alone when it is not currently available for other similar administrative tribunals. I think, quite frankly, that we might well have to wait until such time as it applies to everybody concerned.
306 In conclusion, perhaps I might deal with just one or two matters to which my noble friend Lord Longford referred, and which appear in the report of his working party, which stated that its object wasto stir the public mind to a far more generous and imaginative approach towards the victims of crimeWith that end in view, it is quite understandable that my noble friend and those who support him should describe the distress which is suffered by victims of crime in the way they did. But, looked at in a more rational way, the distress is very little different from the shock and suffering caused by heavy casualties on the roads, by industrial accidents and the tragic births of children with severe physical or mental handicaps. I think really that we have to ask ourselves whether we can say that victims of crimes are intrinsically different from other disabled people in the community.
The Government's policy is to provide the best possible service for everyone who suffers from a disability of any kind, whether physical or mental, and it would be invidious indeed to try to justify hospital provision, job training, or any of the other services mentioned by the noble Earl, that are in some way better or more specialised for those whose distress is caused by crime as against those who attribute it to any other cause. I think it would be fair to say that all these facilities exist at the present moment. They cater, and have done for years, for people who are severely impaired, mentally or physically, and for people who need special help. I acknowledge that many of the victims can suffer very serious traumatic experiences which stay with them for many, many months and perhaps many, many years; but I suggest that facilities for dealing with them exist in the community at present, and I do not think we could give any undertaking that we could provide any facilities separate from those provided at the present moment.
I have to say that we are not convinced that a Minister for the victims of crime would render greater service than the service which is now being provided. But this is a matter which, I know, in the light of this report which is officially published today, will be considered by the Government. However, I thought I ought to be quite frank and say that at present the Government's view is that the 307 facilities needed by the people mentioned by my noble friend and his working party are to be found in the community at the present moment, and that they would receive—indeed I hope they have already received—the special care that people in similar positions have been receiving now for a good long while.
§ Lord ALLEN of ABBEYDALE
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him whether he can possibly say anything about the question I posed on the Report of the Pearson Commission, on the ground that if their recommendations were put into effect and the Board mirrored those recommendations so far as they applied to the civil courts, the position of the Board would be quite radically affected? Is it possible for him to give any indication of when we might expect some decision?
§ Lord WELLS-PESTELL
No, my Lords. I looked at that today and reread the relevant parts of the Pearson Report recommendations, but I am afraid that I cannot be of any help to your Lordships at this stage.