18 April 2024

Unified compensation scheme needed for victims of scandals, MPs told

18 April 2024

MPs have heard calls for a unified scheme to allocate compensation to victims of medical or legal scandals.

During a back bench business debate, Liberal Democrat MP Richard Foord (Tiverton and Honiton) called for “redress schemes that are effective, timely, proportionate and fair”.

MPs from across the House raised the delays and problems with compensation in a number of miscarriages of justice, including the Post Office Horizon scandal, the infected blood scandal, the Windrush scandal, and pension inequality for Waspi women.

Members advocating for the victims of scandals pointed out that delays mean that many die before they see any redress.

Mr Foord said the high-profile Post Office Horizon scandal that saw hundreds of subpostmasters wrongly convicted was “but one of a wider problem”.

He told the Commons: “No guidance exists on when and how compensation schemes should be established, or what an overseeing body should look like.

“This means that each scheme has its own unique and dysfunctional set of rules. Reinventing the wheel each time a scandal emerges means that victims are failed by the very system that is meant to right the wrongs of the past.”

Mr Foord said that delays in victims receiving compensation can also emerge because “each time a scandal emerges the organisation that is responsible for the scandal is often the organisation that is charged with redress”.

He added: “Schemes are frequently blighted by unnecessary complexity, delays, a huge emotional and legal burden on the victims and often these schemes are shrouded in secrecy and they lack proper independence.”

The solution to these issues Mr Foord presented to MPs was a unified body that would “provide consistency” and “guarantee independent oversight”.

He said: “What we need is a standing independent body that could provide consistency for victims of scandals, no matter the sector being activated whenever a new scandal emerges.

“Such a body should be constituted of experts to ensure guaranteed independence of judgment and be accountable directly to Parliament for the expenditure of any public funds and its overall conduct. Critically, victims must also have representation on these panels.

“This structure would come at no extra cost to the taxpayer as the current compensation framework often proves lengthy and costly for both victim and taxpayer.”

He added: “We need to see lessons learned from this array of scandals.”

Labour MP Kevan Jones (North Durham) said that compensation schemes have become a “feeding-frenzy” for lawyers.

Mr Jones said: “What annoys many victims is the fact that these schemes have become like a feeding-frenzy for lawyers and that in a lot of cases the only people that benefit from it ultimately are the lawyers.

“And what really sticks in the throat of many victims is the fact that many lawyers are up to get more out of the scheme than the individuals affected.”

Mr Foord replied: “There is probably nobody in this place who knows more about the Horizon compensation schemes than (Mr Jones) does.

“I heard that one of the subpostmasters, Lee Castleton, who was affected by the scandal, said that during the past 25 years, £135 million has been paid to some of the victims, but we’ve had £150 million paid to the lawyers.”

Later in the session, Mr Jones added: “What is sad is that we’ve got individuals who are dying before they at least get some redress for all of the harm that’s been done, that cannot be right.”

Conservative former minister Sir Christopher Chope said it is not surprising that confidence in British institutions is “rapidly diminishing” in relation to redress schemes.

The MP for Christchurch urged the Government to set up a redress agency in line with the recommendations of the Cumberlege Report, which focused on those affected by birth defects linked to anti-epilepsy drug sodium valproate.

Cabinet Office minister Alex Burghart said: “The Government very firmly believes that access to redress is fundamental in upholding justice and fairness within our society.

“It’s imperative that individuals have avenues to seek recourse when they have been wronged or harmed and, recognising this, the schemes in which the Government provides redress are numerous.

“This Government has done more than most in the past few years to address historic wrongs.”

He added: “We must be very wary of any approach which would set up a uniform system to redress and compensation.

“Each set of circumstances is often very different, schemes need to be capable of reflecting those differences in order to make sure the individuals affected get the best redress possible.”

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