Justice is truly blind
You're the family's breadwinner and you've lost all your material possessions and the means for replacing them, maybe because the plane you were on crashed and you have to spend the rest of your life as paraplegic.
Or maybe, to cut costs, an oil company did not take every recognised precaution whilst drilling and released the pent up power of a mud volcano which destroyed your home and industry.
You would expect compensation, wouldn't you? Whether it was directly from the company responsible or their insurance company is of little matter to you - it's the welfare of your family which is paramount.
Now suppose that you've been sentenced to life in prison for murders (or terrorist outrages) you didn't commit. Whilst a life in prison is marginally better than the death sentence if you're truly innocent, you've still lost your family and you cannot support them.
Now imagine that three, twelve, eighteen or even twenty years later you are free after your legal team and friends outside have campaigned for your release and a series of trials have confirmed that you were wrongfully convicted.
What a relief, eh?
Well, not quite. In the UK, once you have been financially compensated for your time away from normal society you are faced with a horrendous bill
, but not from your lawyers who were probably recompensed through the legal aid system. What you must pay is a sum for the "living expenses" you incurred in prison.
British law lords have said that the deduction should not be seen as board and lodging, but as expenses prisoners would have had to pay from their earnings if they had been free.
This week, Vincent and Michael Hickey lost their battle for full compensation for their wrongful conviction in 1979 for the murder of newspaper boy Carl Bridgewater
. It has taken ten years since their release for this petty yet crucial legal precedent to be set. For 18 years, the Bridgewater Four were, to put it bluntly, kidnapped by the British state.
The Birmingham Six
also served eighteen years and more for a crime they did not commit, and will also lose part of their justly awarded compensation.Anyone who has spent a couple of decades inside for a crime they did not commit, or been vilified as a bomber or a child killer while in jail, will say that no amount of money will ever compensate them for the damage and time. But if there is a logic to deducting B&B expenses from a wrongly convicted person, why should it stop at the costs of board and lodging?
Why not indeed? And why restrict this to the innocents? Give each released prisoner a bill for services rendered inside. Better yet, charge every prisoner for meals, laundry, and for access to the exercise yard whilst they are in society's custody.
Here in in Indonesia, there are already 'special' charges for special arrangements. This is how a Bali bomber can get hold of a laptop computer to plan more outrages, and it is commonly known that the bigger drug rings are organised inside.
And in China, relatives get charged for the bullet that executes their loved ones.
So, penal systems can be operated by market forces. Imprison those who can afford to pay and execute the rest. Or better yet, hound them to death.
Too many miscarriages of justice take place worldwide. You may be familiar with the film In The Name Of The Father
, an emotive account of the Guildford Four
.For the four people who had lost their youth, a personal trauma of equal intensity lay in store. As Gareth Peirce, Gerry Conlon's solicitor, put it:
"They come out with no money and no counselling. They have no references, it's difficult to open a bank account, you can't get a mortgage. You don't belong
."Little things - the pace of life and the gadgetry invented since 1974 - caused panic. They found the noise of traffic and crossing the road frightening.
"You're inadequate, you've no skills,
" said Conlon.
But the most serious effects of 15 years in prison, most of them in category A, was psychological. Three years ago Adrian Grounds, a psychiatrist at the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge, examined Conlon and four of the Birmingham Six who were released in 1991. He found that they were suffering from irreversible, persistent and disabling post-traumatic stress syndrome. He compared their mental state with that of brain damaged accident victims or people who had suffered war crimes, he said.
Spare a thought for the family of Sally Clark
Sally, aged 42, was released in 2003 having been wrongfully imprisoned for more than 3 years, falsely accused of the murder of her two sons. Sadly, she never fully recovered from the effects of this appalling miscarriage of justice.
She was found dead at her home