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Lord Thomas of Gresford: We on these Benches support the new clause. It is very important that the victims of crime receive proper compensation. I know that the Minister will give us an assurance that the level of compensation paid under the compensation scheme will continue as it is now. Victims should not carry the

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burden of legal proceedings being brought against them on top of what they have suffered personally and physically. We support the new clause.

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: In supporting the amendments moved by my noble friend Lord Hunt, I repeat the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas. My noble friend referred to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. Is any review taking place at the moment of the scope of the board? If so, what are its terms and when will we know its outcome?

Lord Filkin: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for tabling this important amendment. I make it clear that the Home Secretary does not intend to resile in any way from the commitments that he gave. I shall explain in the course of my comments why there has been some delay.

The amendment would prevent any person who has been convicted of a criminal offence from pursuing a civil action in damages for any personal injury caused by a range of people falling within the definition of a "victim" of the offence, unless the court considered that it was in the interests of justice for the action to be brought.

The Government are sympathetic to the concerns raised by the Opposition in this area, and recognise the need for people to have confidence in the justice system. It is important that victims of crime are not subject to unjustified claims for damages when they have acted reasonably and proportionately in defending themselves or their property. We recognise that there may occasionally be cases that raise public disquiet and understand the concerns that can be raised by even one case. The Government have indicated that we shall take action.

We are thinking along the same lines as this amendment, but we consider that some aspects of it need to be improved. For example, it is unclear how and when a claim should proceed and what mechanisms would enable it to do so. The amendment would give a very wide discretion to the courts as to whether the claim should proceed, which could operate to reduce its effectiveness. It would cover corporate bodies and the proprietary interests of the victim, which we believe may not be the best approach, but would not protect from civil action a third party such as a police officer who had intervened to defend the victim. It also does not make clear that other defences currently available to the victim would continue to be available, such as the doctrine of ex turpi causa non oritur actio, which can operate to deny an action arising from a base cause.

We therefore intend to bring forward a government amendment which is clearer and more focused, and which will genuinely strengthen courts' powers to reject unmeritorious claims. This is a complex area of the law, and any amendment could have implications for a number of related areas, including the common law on self-defence; the law on negligence and contributory negligence; and the application by the

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courts of certain common law doctrines such as ex turpi causa. We are giving those implications very careful consideration.

We have also been considering the concerns raised by the public about the granting of legal aid to fund the type of case that we are discussing. Public funding is intended to help the least well off in society with the cost of legal advice, and it is open to anyone who wishes to bring or defend proceedings in the English or Welsh courts to apply through a solicitor to the Legal Services Commission for funding. The criteria for the grant and withdrawal of public funding are laid down by Parliament. The Legal Services Commission cannot differentiate between applicants on the grounds that a decision to grant funding may be unpopular. Decisions are made solely according to whether an application meets the statutory criteria. Funding applications are assessed according to a means and merit test. Only those applicants who satisfy both statutory tests will qualify.

Reference was made to Mr Fearon, who was granted some limited legal aid funding under the Legal Aid Act 1988. A more stringent merit test was introduced under the Access to Justice Act 1999. The Lord Chancellor has directed the Legal Services Commission to include the current criteria for funding personal injury cases in its consultation about changes to the scope of Community Legal Service funding and the funding code later in the year, with a view to tightening the rules in that area, so that any future claim, such as that of Brendon Fearon, would be excluded from the normal scope of the Community Legal Service.

An application for public funding under the exceptional funding powers under Section 6(8)(b) of the Access to Justice Act 1999 would be possible for any excluded service. However, an application would be less likely to meet the additional criteria set for exceptional funding.

I hope that by outlining the measures that we are taking forward on both the civil law and legal aid, the Government have made clear their intention to address concerns that have been raised. However, as I indicated, this is a complex area of civil law and it is important to produce a clear, strong and effective amendment that does not have any damaging effects on the wider law. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to finalise matters in time to put forward an amendment at this stage of the Bill. However, we aim to bring forward an amendment on Report. I hope that on that basis the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, on behalf of the noble Baroness, will not press the amendment. We are trying—

7.30 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Wirral: It may assist the noble Lord if I remind him of the point raised by my noble friend Lord Carlisle of Bucklow, which was supported by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. Is there a review going on into the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board? My noble friend Lord Carlisle

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is a former distinguished chairman. Could we have more details and an answer to the questions that he raised?

Lord Filkin: As is sometimes the case, in another five seconds I would have found the relevant information, but I have it now. As has been said, there have been press reports on the matter the noble Lord mentioned. We are certainly trying to improve the focus and efficiency of the criminal injuries compensation scheme and to draw in additional resources to achieve better support for victims and witnesses. I can therefore say clearly that we hope to publish a consultation paper on this matter in a couple of months or so to set out how we intend to move forward on the issue with thorough consultation.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: Are the Government intending to give victims more money?

Lord Filkin: That is one of the issues that the consultation paper will set out. It will consider how the criminal injuries compensation scheme should be developed and improved for the benefit of victims and witnesses. I cannot prejudge the detail of the document or the outcome of the consultation.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: Will victims be pleased at the outcome of the review?

Lord Filkin: With the greatest respect, one will have to wait to see how the process of consultation rolls out on an intent by government to improve the operation of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme. Any other comment would clearly be premature.

Lord Carlisle of Bucklow: I do not wish to prejudge what may be in the report, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, appears to be doing, but will it deal with the scope of the scheme and those who will come within it in future? What will be its limitations?

Viscount Colville of Culross: Before the noble Lord replies to that, I have not followed what is to happen. As I understand it, we are not going to have an amendment on this particular matter on Report. We are going to have a report as a result of the Law Commission's consultations and various other considerations and that will come forward in legislation at some time in the future—goodness knows when, given the Government's programme. I happen to come from the part of the country where Mr Tony Martin and Mr Fearon had their conflict. It is a very lively issue there. It would be helpful to know what will happen and have some indication when it is going to happen. We need to know that.

Lord Filkin: I may have missed the point but I sought to be explicitly clear on the matter. In short, the Government will fulfil the commitment given by the Home Secretary in this respect. I have indicated that we are broadly sympathetic to the amendment tabled by the Opposition Front Bench. We shall bring

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forward a considered and careful government amendment on Report to seek to put beyond danger the concerns that the public quite rightly and understandably have in this respect. It would have been good if we had that amendment before us tonight but it will be with the House on Report with a very earnest endeavour to close this loophole.

I have also been asked about the review of the criminal injuries compensation scheme. I have stated very clearly that there will be a consultation paper on that. We are not in a position to say any more at this point about its scope and depth, but in a sense it is self- evident that it will consider how the criminal injuries compensation scheme should be developed to give better justice to victims and witnesses. But any further than that no government can at this stage go.

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