EditorSolicitors Journal

Government up to its 'old tricks' with prison service compensation audit

Government up to its 'old tricks' with prison service compensation audit

BLM announce personal injury audit to support MoJ's crackdown on 'spurious' claims

The government is 'pandering to popular prejudices' with its plans to crackdown on prisoners taking advantage of the UK's 'compensation culture', a leading lawyer has argued.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has launched an investigation into compensation payouts to prisoners.

Over the last year, £28.8m has been spent by the Prison Service in handling claims. This figure is up £7m from the previous financial year, which includes damages, legal advice, and representation.

Announcing the review, justice minister Dominic Raab MP said: 'We have ordered an independent audit to make sure we are not being taken for a ride. We want public money focused on protecting the public and reforming offenders - not fuelling the compensation culture.'

However, Sean Humber, a partner and head of the human rights department at Leigh Day, told SJ that the government appeared to be back to its 'old tricks'.

'Less than a month after our prime minister rightly described prisons as miserable, painful environments and, equally rightly, described his management of the prison system as a failure, the government appears to be back to its old tricks.

'It is deliberately raising an issue of supposedly bogus claims, with scant evidence a problem even exists, in order to both mask its own deficiencies and also to pander to popular prejudices.'

Humber argued that the audit seems a 'rather desperate attempt to deflect attention' from the current crisis in the prison system caused by record overcrowding, slashed budgets, and reduced staffing.

'Any increase in compensation claims seems far more likely to be as a result of the deteriorating conditions which place the safety of prisoners at risk on a daily basis,' he continued.

'In my experience, prisoners usually bring legal action in order to try and stop the Prison Service behaving unlawfully rather than for the modest compensation they would be awarded.

Humber added: 'Entirely cynically, the Prison Service often consider it cheaper to try and settle these claims on a one by one basis than tackling the underlying problems that give rise to the claims.

'The government also often chose to fight meritorious claims far longer than necessary so inevitably increasing the legal costs incurred by all sides.'

The UK and Ireland's leading risk and insurance firm, BLM has been engaged by the MoJ to audit prisoner claims in an effort to identify opportunities to reduce payments of damages and legal costs.

BLM will audit a sample of concluded personal injury claims submitted to the prison services over a 12-month period before reporting back to the ministry.

Audit lead, BLM partner and head of public sector, Michael Pether, commented: 'As in any area of the public sector, the MoJ is not immune to spurious and exaggerated claims levelled against it. It is important to assess whether better and more efficient outcomes could be achieved.

'We hope this process can help to improve the way the Prison Service and the wider public sector handle claims and we look forward to sharing our findings later this month.'

Recent claims under the spotlight include that of Michael Adebolajo, the killer of Fusilier Lee Rigby, who is seeking £20,000 after two of his front teeth were knocked out in incident at HMP Belmarsh in July 2013.

Adebolajo launched the claim after he was alleged assaulted by five prison officers. The claim is currently ongoing.

Claims that have already been concluded include that of Abdul Miah, who was convicted of terrorism offences in 2012. He launched a claim for racial discrimination after he was searched by a female prison officer. His claim for £2,000 in compensation was dismissed.

Meanwhile, jailed robber Anthony Evans attempting to pocket £6,000 after claiming he had fallen from his bunk. His false claim was discovered and he was jailed for an additional six months for fraud.

'If the government's real position is that it does not believe that prisoners should, for example, have the right to decent medical treatment, protection from discrimination, or the right to live in a safe environment, it needs to say so,' added Leigh Day's Humber.

'Otherwise it must accept the inevitable consequences of prisoners bringing claims where it is failing to protect these rights.'

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