The case concerned the scope of the Criminal Injuries compensation scheme and what constitutes a ‘crime of violence’ under the scheme for the purposes of obtaining compensation. The Respondent, Gareth Jones, was driving a gritter on the motorway, travelling behind an articulated lorry when a man (Barry Hughes) ran into the path of the lorry, apparently intending to commit suicide. In attempting to avoid him, the driver of the lorry braked and swerved, colliding with the vehicle driven by Mr Jones. He was thrown from the gritter and suffered severe injuries as a result of the accident, for which he continued to require full time care. He applied to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority for compensation under the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2001.

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme was set up to provide compensation to victims of violent crime. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) decided that Mr Jones was not entitled to compensation because it was unable to determine a crime of violence that had led to his injuries. They held that in running into the path of the articulated lorry, Mr Hughes did not commit a crime of violence.

Previous Decisions

The Respondent appealed the CICA’s decision to the First Tier Tribunal, arguing that Mr Hughes had committed two possible offences:

(1)    Intentionally and unlawfully interfering with a motor vehicle (contrary to s 22A of the Road Traffic Act 1988); or

(2)    Inflicting grievous bodily harm (contrary to s 20 of the Offence Against the Person Act 1861).

The Tribunal rejected Mr Jones’ submission that Mr Hughes’ actions constituted interfering with a motor vehicle and was not satisfied that he had intended to cause harm or had been reckless as to the harm which his actions may have caused. They therefore dismissed the appeal. Upon judicial review, the Upper Tribunal confirmed the decision of the First Tier Tribunal.

However, the Court of Appeal held that the First Tier Tribunal’s decision should be subject to judicial review. They decided that Mr Hughes’ actions did amount to a crime of violence and directed the matter to a differently constituted Tribunal to reconsider the question of whether Mr Hughes was reckless as to whether he caused grievous bodily harm.

The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeal had not been able to show that it was entitled to overturn the First Tier Tribunal’s decision and allowed the CICA’s appeal, restoring the decision of the Tribunal.

In its judgment, the Supreme Court paid particular attention to paragraph 38 of the First Tier Tribunal’s decision which set out the Tribunal’s reasoning. This paragraph clearly indicated that the Tribunal had given due regard to the question of whether an offence had been committed under s 20 of the Offence Against the Person Act. The Supreme Court held that the Tribunal’s decision that Mr Hughes’ actions did not constitute committing grievous bodily harm was one that a rational tribunal could have arrived at. It concluded that as this decision was properly made, it was not an appellate bodies place to alter the decision and substitute its findings with a different opinion. The Court of Appeal judgment was flawed in that it wrongly assumed that a question of fact, which the First Tier Tribunal was entitled to decide, was a question of law that had been incorrectly applied and that their decision could therefore be appealed. The Supreme Court held that the First Tier Tribunal had correctly identified and appreciated the questions of fact, had used the correct tests in order to answer those questions and had reached a conclusion which a rational tribunal could have agreed with. The Supreme Court suggested that the Court of Appeal had been unduly critical and had misinterpreted parts of the First Tier Tribunal’s reasoning, assuming that the Tribunal’s reasoning was incomplete. Lord Hope commented that “judicial restraint should be exercised when the reasons that a tribunal gives for its decision are being examined” [25] and suggested that the Court of Appeal had “allowed itself to be unduly influenced by its own view” [16].

Of note, the Supreme Court also considered the appeal framework for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority and the Tribunals and the role the Court of Appeal had in relation to that framework. The Upper Tribunal was identified as being the correct body to develop guidance on the use of terms which would be frequently relied on by the CICA to allow a consistent approach to be used by the judges who sit on those Tribunals. Appeals to the Tribunals were only to be brought on points of law, although this was to be interpreted widely to correct errors and promote consistency on points of principle and judgments which could be of general relevance to particular areas.

The Supreme Court’s judgment is noteworthy not in returning to the First Tier Tribunal’s decision, but because of the comments on the relationship between tribunals and appellate courts. In his judgment, Lord Hope said that “an appeal court should not venture too readily into this area by classifying issues as issues of law which are really best left for determination by the specialist appellate tribunal.”[[16] Lord Carnwath suggested “the dividing line between law and fact may vary” and stated that as a matter of principle, “where Parliament has established such a specialist appellate tribunal in a particular field, its expertise should be used to best effect, to shape and direct the development of law and practice in that field” [46-7]. This indicates that tribunals that were set up precisely to hear appeals relating to a particular area of law could step into the “grey area” between issues of fact and law, but other Courts (including the Court of Appeal) should overrule their decisions a great deal more carefully. The tribunal system that has been established in relation to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority were held to be best placed to answer ambiguous issues or to clarify areas to ensure consistency in these matters. In his judgment, Lord Carnwath also referred to re Grayan Building Services Ltd [1995] Ch 241, which suggested that such specialist tribunals had greater leeway to decide questions of law. Whilst this approach demonstrates differences in how Courts and Tribunals systems address questions of fact and of law, the judgment by the Supreme Court shows their willingness to allow different authorities to take more responsibility in their particular fields, clearly stating “it is primarily for the tribunals, not the appellate courts, to develop a consistent approach to these issues”[16] and that doing so is an important aspect of their role.