Payout review in drink-related rape cases ruled out

· No mechanism in place, claims compensation body
· Minister says guidelines were wrongly applied

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority yesterday refused to automatically review the cases of at least 14 rape victims who had their payouts cut because they had been drinking when they were attacked, despite admitting the reductions should never have been made.

Justice minister Bridget Prentice called on the body to look again at instances where women were given less money after being told their alcohol consumption had contributed to their fate, insisting it was not government policy to blame victims and the guidelines had been wrongly applied. The victims should not have to request such a review, she said.

Vera Baird, the solicitor general, also issued a rebuke to the authority. "It is vital the CICA understands that women are not responsible for men's criminality because they have a drink or for any other reason," she said. "Nobody would suggest that if someone's wallet was stolen after having a drink then their compensation should be reduced."

But the CICA said there was no mechanism in place to review cases unless asked by victims, adding that if a victim had already accepted their decision - as is likely for most of the women affected last year - the case could not be revisited.

Prentice's comments followed an about-turn by the CICA, which had initially stood by its decisions to reduce the standard £11,000 compensation for rape by as much as 25%. Late on Monday it suddenly declared this was not its policy, saying that in the case of one woman highlighted by the Guardian, Helen, it had made a mistake that was corrected - after she challenged it through her solicitor.

But in at least one other case a complaint over a reduced payout was rejected. A total of 14 women - apart from Helen - were given less money last year.

Prentice said it was "absolutely clear" that should not have happened. "That has always been the policy," she said. "As far as we in the government are concerned a victim of rape is not in any way at all culpable due to alcohol consumption.

"As I understand it the CICA have accepted that the guidelines were being misapplied. I hope that the compensation authority will look at these other cases that they believe may also have had the guidelines misinterpreted and review them, without the victims themselves having to go back and ask for that review."

Victims must challenge CICA decisions within 90 days, meaning those affected in 2007/8 are likely to have already missed their opportunity. "If an applicant accepts our decision then that case is finalised and closed," the CICA said. "If they wish to ask for a review they must do this themselves, in writing."

Victims who had taken drugs when they were attacked should not be blamed either, Prentice said.

Under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2001, a payout can be reduced, or denied completely, if the claims officer considers that the applicant's conduct before, during or after the incident makes it "inappropriate" to give them a full award, or any award at all.

This may be applied where "excessive" drinking or use of illicit drugs is judged to have "contributed to the circumstances which gave rise to the injury". No mention is made in the scheme of any crimes where this clause would not apply.

One instance where it might be used is if someone gets involved in a fight after drinking and ends up injured. Prentice said that in a case where someone was mugged when they were drunk and vulnerable, it would still be a decision for the CICA whether their payout was docked.

Helen's solicitor, Debaleena Dasgupta, had argued that the CICA's decision to cut her payout to £8,250 amounted to indirect sexual discrimination.

Sandra McNeill, of the Campaign to End Rape, called for the government to investigate past cases to see if "old and silly prejudices" meant compensation had been cut. "Old prejudices like if a woman is wearing a short skirt or acting in a certain way are still operational," she said. "By reducing compensation because a woman has been drinking, the CICA is operating under those old prejudices."

In 2005 Amnesty International surveyed 1,095 people and found a quarter believed a woman was partially or completely responsible for being raped if she had been drinking.

Changing message

Monday afternoon

The CICA confirmed it reduced awards due to excessive alcohol consumption in 1% of 1,396 rape-related cases it dealt with in 2007/8, affecting 14 victims.

Monday, 6.04pm

New CICA statement says: "The scheme was originally applied wrongly in this case, but this was corrected at review and the award was paid in full."

Monday, 9.35pm

The Ministry of Justice says: "... It is not our policy to reduce the level of award to a victim of rape due to alcohol consumption. This ... supports our view that a victim of rape is not in anyway culpable due to alcohol consumption."

Yesterday, 8.35am

Justice minister Bridget Prentice tells Today programme: "A victim of rape should not have any compensation reduced because of their drinking ... I hope that the compensation authority will look at these other cases ..."

Yesterday, 4.14pm

The CICA refuses to automatically review cases. "There is no mechanism in place to do this," it says.


Rachel Williams

The GuardianTramp

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