Barry George\’s Compensation

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.

 

 

24 thoughts on “Barry George\’s Compensation”

  1. That may be technically true.

    But the average man in the street would quite reasonably point out that he’s there because of a mistake – and therefore the authorities should not be allowed any leeway with the paying of compensation, as there’s a ‘punitive’ aspect to it.

    Perhaps we’d be better off adopting a clear breakdown – ‘here’s the sum to compensate you for lost earnings, etc (adjusted as per usual), and here’s a huge wodge to encourage the authorities to do a better job next time’.

  2. …….and here’s a huge wodge to encourage the authorities to do a better job next time

    Yep; and better yet, the huge wodge paid from the pension funds of the relevant “authorities” and earmarked, so it can only be made good by clawback from employees’ contributions and not by clawback from the taxpayer. Might serve to concentrate a few minds.

  3. Well, with the government occasionally popping up to demand that criminals compensate their victims out of their own pockets, perhaps we should ensure that the police who fitted him up, the jury who convicted him on a criminal lack of evidence, the lawyers who did a piss-poor job and the judge who accepted this farce might, perhaps, be forced to stump up the compensation cash?

    DK

  4. Mark, I’m doubtful of that figure. I’ve seen figures in that ball park used for around the last ten years. With Brown Trouser inflation and general NuLab incompetence I suspect Tim’s figure is closer to the truth..

  5. DK,

    If you include juries you might as well kiss the jury system good-bye.

    Being banged up means you miss freedom in general, but in particular you lose all the weekends of leisure, the holidays and the evenings. The compensation should allow you to catch up on all this time by providing you with sufficent income that you don’t have to work if you choose not to.

  6. You are correct in your summary of the law, but it is worth noting that this was not clarified until March last year in the aftermath of the Carl Bridgewater appeal. The Lords split in that case 4-1, with the view you identify best expressed by Lord Bingham at para 23 and Lord Brown at paras 92 – 107. The Law Lord in the minority was Lord Rodger (a former Conservative law officer). His view takes into account the general principles of tort (delict in Scotland) that liability is influenced by fairness, justice, and reasonableness. At para 82 of the judgment he summarises his position,

    “I find myself unable to accept … any … argument in favour of the deduction. Section 5 is designed to deal with an injured person’s maintenance while necessarily living in a caring institution for the purposes of treatment. I am by no means satisfied that Parliament would ever have envisaged that it would be extended by analogy to cover a prisoner’s maintenance while unjustifiably detained in a prison for the purposes of punishment. Indeed, at this point the assessor’s approach meets what I consider to be an insuperable objection. In the situation envisaged by Parliament, and indeed in all the situations where the courts have allowed a deduction for basic living costs, by the time the supposed saving occurs the defendant has already injured, but is no longer injuring, the claimant. The wrong is over and done with, even though its effects remain. Parliament provides that any savings which then accrue to the injured person, while he is being maintained at public expense in an institution providing treatment to remove or palliate those effects, are to be set off against any loss of earnings. By contrast, in the appellants’ situation the wrong was not over and done with when they were being maintained at public expense and the supposed savings accrued to them. On the contrary, their enforced but unjustified maintenance in prison at public expense for years on end is the very worst part of the injury which has been done to them and for which they are entitled to compensation. The actual infliction of the continuing wrong and the supposed saving are inextricably linked, just as they would be in the case of a prolonged kidnapping. That simple fact takes the appellants’ case beyond the reach of the kinds of policy considerations which favour offsetting the injured person’s savings against loss of earnings in the situations envisaged by Parliament and the courts. To put it no more strongly, justice, reasonableness and public policy surely dictate that no allowance should be made for so-called savings which the appellants were supposedly making while they were actually enduring the appalling wrong for which they are to be compensated.”

    When the Bridgewater case was decided last year the error you identify riddled the media reports, and blog commentaries on the decision. I prefer Lord Rodger’s view but the argument for the majority is principled and logical.

    Any compensation will be divided into pecuniary and non-pecuniary compensation. The deduction will come from the former (which takes into account loss of earnings &c). Non-pecuniary compensation (compensation for loss of liberty, for damage to reputation, for injury and suffering) will not be affected by any reduction.

    Best wishes

    Scott

  7. There should be no reductions in this kind of case. The expense of food and board is incurred as a consequence of a lawful process later deemed unlawful; that food and board would have been payable by the appellant for their own maintenance is secondary to the the question of the whole justice of the process in which they have become involved, usually through no fault of their own. One shudders at the thought of how many other Barry Georges are banged up in British prisons. Have Shami Chakrabarti’s mob gone mute over this? I haven’t heard or read one word from Liberty about this travesty – willing, of course, to be corrected.

  8. Well he does get to sue, and get his money.

    And then the woman he was (soundly) convicted of attacking some years ago, gets to sue him, and gets her money. I do hope she leaves him without a pot to piss in….

  9. The deductions are rather interesting.
    they could be built up to a great degree. Of the things he probably would have incurred :-The cost of a marriage , house, children, a messy divorce , child support and private child medical care. Etc.
    In the end he might be happy to stay in prison.

  10. Monty,

    Under that line of thinking, where would the line that says ‘Justice’ ever be drawn?

    If he were properly convicted of an offence, his victim has the right to apply for criminal injuries compensation. Are you suggesting that if a person has done a bad thing for which they are properly held to account, that removes all rights they might have when a bad thing happens to them? That’s a pretty savage world – and, with the greatest respect, it’s not one of which I’d wish to be a part.

  11. “Are you suggesting that if a person has done a bad thing for which they are properly held to account, that removes all rights they might have when a bad thing happens to them?”

    I don’t see that Monty’s saying that at all. I think the parallel here is the case of Ioworth Hoare, the so-called ‘lottery rapist’.

    When convicted, it wasn’t worth the victims suing him as he didn’t have any money at the time. Now he has.

    Simple as that.

  12. Yes, but the difference seems to be that Monty’s claiming the victim should get /all/ George’s money. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be stalked and “attempted raped” by a weirdo than locked in jail for eight years (with the belief at the time that it was going to be forever), to the extent that I can’t see how anyone could begrudge George keeping some of the compensation.

  13. I think the compensation he receives should reflect the time he spent wrongly imprisoned. But it should take into account the contributory factor of his previous obsessive stalking of women, and conviction for attempted rape. By his own admission he had no alibi for the day of the murder because he was furtively stalking some other woman. That does not mean he deserved to be wrongly convicted of a murder. But it does mean that his own conduct contributed to the suspicions of the police and CPS.

    He should, of course, be placed in the same position he would have attained had he not been imprisoned. Well, 8 years ago he was a hopeless tosser who was a menace to all women. Whereas now he is a hopeless tosser who is a menace to all women.

    And his victim has every right to be compensated by him for the violence and fear he inflicted on her, deliberately, and without any provocation from her.

    And it all boils down to anguish and suffering. Who suffered the most? Very difficult to say isn’t it. Any victim of a sudden attack always has to cope with the attendant fear of a violent untimely death. And you know death isn’t something that you get released from after a period of time.

    So I stand by my last comment.

  14. Monty,

    Although I think I understand where you’re coming from, there is a fundamental difference between Mr. George’s position now and his position at the time he was imprisoned. He might once have been a ‘hopeless tosser who was a menace to all women’; if he retains that sorry status now, he’s also one whose face has been on the front page of every newspaper. His opportunities to persist in that behaviour will, in all likelihood, be strictly limited. If memory serves, I think I’ve read that he’s also going to be under close supervision.

    Your comment also makes the assumptions that Mr. George has not received any treatment in prison, and that he has not used his time away from society to reflect upon the danger he posed to it and to himself on account of his previous lifestyle., and decided to reform.

    Without wishing to get preachy, to believe that death is not a release is an argument based on religion, not civics.; however, in the interests of being absolutely reasonable, I would harbour some reservations about Mr. George living next door to any female relative or friend of mine. The fault for that type of thinking is mine.

  15. “if he retains that sorry status now, he’s also one whose face has been on the front page of every newspaper. His opportunities to persist in that behaviour will, in all likelihood, be strictly limited. If memory serves, I think I’ve read that he’s also going to be under close supervision.”

    Why would that count in his favour? It is not some self-sacrificing decision of his. And what if the next woman he rapes doesn’t see him until he knocks nine bells of hell out of her, one of these dark nights?

    “and that he has not used his time away from society to reflect upon the danger he posed to it and to himself on account of his previous lifestyle., and decided to reform.”.
    We are expected to accept this theory on the basis of zero evidence are we? I don’t think he has even said that himself. Let us wait and see. Actions speak louder than words.

    “I would harbour some reservations about Mr. George living next door to any female relative or friend of mine. The fault for that type of thinking is mine.” Right-O. Just so long as this convicted sex offender only murders you, your friends and relatives. That will be your fault too. perhaps you should kill yourself, so nothing that happens hereafter will be your fault.

  16. Have you ever thought of buying a fully grown salt-water crocodile for your children?

    They are much maligned in the press, but I am assured that they make truly wonderful pets.

  17. Monty.

    Unfortunately I don’t have children – you weren’t to know.

    When we are members of civil society, we must take some things on trust, otherwise the whole show breaks down. This is an end which some people actually seem to desire; I hope it never does. The result is chaos. Society saw fit to bang Mr. George up for a crime he didn’t commit; society saw fit to release when it became clear that a mistake had been made. The nature and reporting of his case has been such that it might be unlikely that he will have much opportunity to re-offend. The only practical way in which your fears could be allayed would be for Mr. George to be detained for life, because of the possible danger he might present. Would you support this? If so, I beleive you are wrong. He’s done the time for the crimes, and some more for one he didn’t commit. A line must be drawn somewhere. I will asume your invitation that I should suicide myself was facetious.

  18. I follow your argument but…

    So if they deduct food and accommodation do they also deduct income tax and NI? And do they factor in possible pension contributions (we all make different provisions) and FTSE performance?

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