Delayed payment, delayed justice

Victims of crime who seek criminal injuries compensation may have to wait years for their claims to be processed, The Royal Gazette can reveal.

The lawyer for a man shot four years ago said she was told by the Supreme Court last week that the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board was “severely backlogged” and that his case had yet to be dealt with.

Cristen Suess, of law firm Wakefield Quin, said she had chased the man’s claim for three years.

She added: “Since submitting the application in 2015, we have contacted the administrator for the CICB, via the Supreme Court Registry, on at least 15 separate occasions to follow up on when his matter was due to be heard.

“We were advised by the court that due to various issues with staffing and budget restraints that his application has not yet been processed.

“Indeed, we spoke with the court on October 8 and were advised that the CICB was severely backlogged as a result of undergoing significant internal transitions and that we would be hearing from them shortly.”

The CICB, funded with public money, does not appear to have released an annual report for years and the number of backlogged cases is not known.

Neither Kathy Lynn Simmons, the Attorney-General, who is responsible for the CICB, nor the board responded to a request for comment.

Ms Suess’s client, who asked not to be named, worked in construction before he was attacked and now faces a financial struggle.

The 26-year-old said: “It has affected me from working, being that I have nerve damage. It has caused me an excruciating amount of pain.

“I can’t really do much. I’m not even able to play football any more.”

The father of one, who now lives in England, was attacked at a sports club by a man who was never convicted of the crime.

The man said: “It was a very frightening thing to go through. I went up to the porch to give somebody something and somebody started shooting. I have permanent injuries.

“From my left hip down to my knee, I have nerve damage. My spine was less than a half-inch away from being severed.”

The victim added he was frustrated by the failure to get his case heard.

He said he planned to pay his legal bill out of any compensation payment.

Gina Spence, a community activist, said she was aware of another case involving a shooting victim who applied for compensation last year but had yet to receive anything. Ms Spence added: “It’s really, really bad. They are on that long waiting list of people who are in dire need of help. The need is now.

“The impact on those that survive these incidents is immediate. The minute you are picked up and put in an ambulance, that’s when the dollars start.

“Many of these victims don’t have insurance and they face astronomical health bills.”

Ms Spence said that the CICB needed an overhaul as laws to govern its operations were passed long before gun violence became a serious problem.

She added: “It was never designed for this magnitude of incidents.”

Scott Pearman, the Opposition spokesman on legal affairs, said: “Delays with the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board are particularly unfortunate because the injured who are seeking aid are victims of crime — sometimes people who suffered injuries trying to prevent crimes.”

He added that Bermuda had more than 30 tribunals and boards with people often confused about which to go to and that the system could be streamlined by bringing them all under one roof.

Mr Pearman said: “Bermuda would benefit from a single tribunal system — allowing Bermudians to have claims and appeals addressed in one place, with one support system to consolidate, simplify, and expedite the many different procedures that exist now.”

Victims of crime can apply to the CICB for compensation on several grounds, including coverage for expenses caused as a result of their injuries and for financial loss owing to a total or partial inability to work.

The maximum payout for a claimant is $100,000.

The board was given a $325,000 budget last year and paid out $138,388 in total to claimants.

Government figures show that the number of claims made to the board has declined in recent years.

There were 16 claims recorded in the 2017-18 financial year, with 13 processed, compared to 26 claims in 2016, with 19 concluded.

In 2015, the year Ms Suess’s client lodged his application, there were 39 applications with 18 processed.

The average time for processing claims was not given.

There were 70 claims for compensation in 2008-09, when the average time to process an application was 15 months.

The compensation board, appointed by the Governor this year, is headed by chairman Nicole Stoneham, a Puisne Judge, and deputy chairman Michael Scott, a government MP and former attorney-general.

The other members are doctors Panagal Chelvam and Kyjuan Brown, and lawyers Tawanna Tannock and Paul Wilson.

The previous board met only twice last year.

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