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A novel way to allow prisoners to sue, whilst ensuring they pay their debts.

Comment 9th August 2010

There has been controversy recently because of press commentary about Ian Huntley suing the Prison Service for negligence. There have been some calls for such actions to be prohibited.

Not giving prisoners legal rights whould not be the enlightened approach of a democracy, but understandably it does cause concern to victims.

At present over and above any criminal sanction, a victim of crime could bring a civil claim for damages in relation to any injury they have suffered or criminal damage. However most don't as most criminals do not have the assets to meet any civil liability, and bringing a civil claim to get an unenforceable judgment costs money.

My proposal would be at the time of sentencing a Magistrate or Judge would make a civil award in favour of a victim. That would be registered as a judgment against the criminal. For injuries awards could be set in line with CICA guidlines to avoid any arguments over amounts. Claims for financial loss would need to be made out in line with current legal principles. 

If having made such an order, subsequently the criminal had a valid legal claim, or won the lottery or sold the rights to their life story, they should get what they are entitled to. However any outstanding judgments ( including one set by the court as above) would need to be paid. To make matters easier there could be an Attachment of Debt/ Garnishee order made directly between the the party that owes the criminal, and the victim.


Why does this matter?

This idea as well as removing a costly administrative hurdle to the obtain a civil judgment, it allows prisoners unfettered legal rights as they should have, and extends the entitlement of victims through a more efficient procedure. Whether this would change prisoners approaches in such cases is unclear, but the system would be simpler, fairer and would seem more balanced.

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