I have a feeling that as Barry George gets his compensation (an interim award and then the final, a year or two down the road) we\’re going to see this misconception being bandied about.
It is the tradition in Britain, when someone is wrongly convicted and locked up, to present them with a bill for room and board when their conviction is overturned. Yes, that\’s right: if you are locked up for, say, twenty years for a crime you did not commit, when your conviction is finally overturned, the government will present you with a large bill for the luxurious prison bed you slept in and the scrumptious prison food you ate.
That isn\’t a British tradition, no. And pointing to newspaper articles that says it is won\’t change my mind on this matter either: the very existence of this blogging thing shows that not all of us believe all we see in the newspapers, yes?
The problem is that people are misunderstanding the way that the compensation is calculated.
Firstly, no one, no one at all, gets presented with a bill for their cell and prison slop.
However, the level of compensation they are paid for their years banged up as an innocent is indeed varied by the costs of food and shelter.
How to reconcile these two points?
The basic English legal response to a tort is that compensation should as far as is possible, put you in the situation which you would have been in if you had not been wronged. Now with people unfairly jailed we cannot fully do so: we can\’t order up those shags not had, those nights in the pub gone for ever, the joy of those late night kebabs unconsumed. But we can try and that\’s what the wodges of cash are about.
Ooops, sorry, we fucked up and here\’s a cheque.
But the important point about such compensation is that it is to where you would have been: not more and not less.
So when the amount is calculated they look at time in jail, wages not earnt and soon. They also look at what you would have spent (but only at what you definitely would have, rather than could have) if you had been on the outside. It\’s not exactly a huge surprise that if you hadn\’t been in jail you would have spent some money on both food and shelter.
So, the amount of comepensation is reduced by the amount that you din\’t have to spend on food and shelter. Thus, as the law requires, you end up where you would have been (as best can be worked out) if you hadn\’t been an innocent in pokey.
Now note that they\’re not charging the costs of your being held: that\’s some £70,000 a year (as I recall) and at that sum no one would ever get any compensation. Nor are they charging you for the food and shelter you had in jail.
They\’re just not compensating you for the food and shelter you did not pay for because you were in jail.
I agree that one can still be upset about this: but that is the way that the entirety of the Common Law understanding of torts works.
People aren\’t being billed for their cell and slop. They\’re not being compensated for the money they didn\’t need to spend because they got those two.
It\’s not all that unsubtle a point, just wish that more people got it.