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Britain's new terrorism victim compensation scheme needs publicity



United Kingdom

Jill Greenfield writes on the need for Britain's new compensation scheme for victims of terrorism to get some publicity.

This article was first published in The Brief, the free, daily email from The Times compiling the most important news from across the legal industry.

After the horror of atrocities in Paris and Tunisia, practical realities invariably arise. How does society help those caught up in terrorist attacks, both immediately and long-term?

Relatives of British citizens killed in previous terror attacks abroad were not eligible for financial support from the British government because they fell outside the UK Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. That meant that those caught in the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US only received support through that country's victims' compensation fund.

This discrepancy meant that financial awards were made to the victims of the London 7/7 bombings in 2005, but British citizens injured in atrocities abroad fell beyond the scope of financial assistance schemes. With travel insurers quick to exploit terrorism exclusion clauses, the practical financial reality became distressingly apparent to victims.

This led to a seven-year campaign, of which I was part, for British victims of terrorism abroad to be treated the same as victims of attacks in the UK.

The introduction of the victims of overseas terrorism compensation scheme in 2012 now means British Citizens suffering injury as a result of atrocities abroad can claim financial support up to a cap of £500,000. For immediate help, victims should also have instant access to £12,000 each in a scheme run by the Red Cross specifically to recognise the cost and complications of suffering attack abroad.

The act introducing this financial support scheme came about despite considerable resistance. It recognises that if you are a British tourist abroad, you are effectively a target for terrorism. It also recognises that even when the dust eventually settles on such atrocities, the economic impact of terrorism on society continues.

But more could be done. The government must ensure that compensation cases are dealt with swiftly and effectively. And the Foreign Office must signpost the availability of such schemes to the victims and their families.

When I requested information from the government earlier this year to confirm how many victims had been able to use the British scheme, I was told that the information was not immediately to hand but that the figures would be available in the summer. I have still not seen them.

Individuals must be supported in their recovery in the immediate aftermath but also in the longer term and that is what the British scheme is meant to do. These are the innocent victims from what in effect is an attack on our society.

Of course, it is also possible to sue terrorists if the perpetrators can be identified on the balance of probabilities and they have assets. Isis has significant assets but this is not a realistic route.

The horror of terrorist atrocities is that the most vulnerable and the least expecting are at risk. They are targeted because of their nationality and the window for impact. At a very modest level, the hope is that support from this new British scheme - if properly administered -- will provide help to those affected.

Jill Greenfield is a partner and head of Serious Injury at Fieldfisher.

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