Abuse Victim Triumphs in Criminal Injuries Compensation Test Case

The long-standing ban on compensation being paid to victims of violent crime who were preyed on by members of their own family prior to 1 October 1979 has been ruled incompatible with fundamental human rights by the Court of Appeal.

The case concerned a woman in her 50s who was subjected to grave sexual abuse by her stepfather between the ages of five and 17. He was eventually prosecuted and, in 2012, was sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment for crimes including rape. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA), however, subsequently cited the so-called ‘same roof’ rule in refusing to compensate the woman.

The First-tier and Upper Tribunals later upheld the CICA’s ruling that she was ineligible for compensation because the abuse had occurred prior to 1 October 1979 and at a time when she was living as part of the same family as her assailant. The date was significant because it was on that day that the ‘same roof’ rule was abolished, but not retrospectively so as to embrace past incidents of violent crime.

In upholding the woman’s appeal against the Upper Tribunal’s decision, the Court found that the maintenance of the ‘same roof’ rule in respect of violent crimes occurring before the cut-off date was incompatible with Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which bans discrimination.

CICA argued that the ‘same roof’ rule was justified by factors including the cost of expanding eligibility under the scheme and the risk that perpetrators might benefit from an award made to members of their families. However, the Court found that the rule was arbitrary and unfair and could not be justified.

The injustice done to the woman was underlined by the fact that a relative who had been abused by the same man prior to the cut-off date had been awarded £1,000 in compensation because she had not been living as a member of the same family as him. That difference in treatment was manifestly without foundation. The Court made a declaration that the ‘same roof’ rule is incompatible with Article 14 and that there is nothing to prevent the woman being justly compensated.