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Criminal claims
The family of burglar Fred Barras, killed when he and two others tried to burgle the house of Norfolk farmer Tony Martin, claimed money from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board. How can a burglar, or his family, be allowed benefit from his misdeeds?


If I read the newspapers correctly, the family's argument is that were he still alive, Barras would be contributing to the family budget, and, in the words of his grandmother "would not have been a thief forever".


By his actions, Mr Martin denied the youth the opportunity of putting his past behind him and becoming an upstanding citizen.

The criminal injuries bit should not cause any real problems. The Board has consistently declined to pay out to people with criminal records, even when their injuries in a particular case have not come from their criminal doings. It is doubtful that the Board will be inclined to give a handout to the family of someone with a long record, who was injured whilst committing a criminal act.

However, suing Mr Martin is a wholly different ball game. The courts have got into the habit of awarding compensation to criminals whose victims have over-reacted, and taken reprisals against them when they have found them on their land, damaging or removing their property.


Now that legal aid has gone from personal injury actions, it will be up to Barras' family to find a solicitor who will take the case on a contingency fee basis. The difficulty with this is that it is a great deal cheaper for a defendant to pay a few hundred - or indeed a few thousand pounds, than fight a civil action. It is an economic fact of life. Whether it is morally right is not the same thing.

Prisoners sue the Home Office for lost shoes, shrunken shirts, hard beds, poor food and myriads of other real or imagined slights. In such cases there is the real smell of blackmail.


The cost and risk of transporting prisoners or setting up a local court inside the prison all mean that there is no possible way of recouping costs from unsuccessful actions.


It is far easier for the Home Office to pay up, and save time, more money and further trouble. On balance, it is probably better that the prisoners be allowed to continue with their claims. It might be even better if they were obliged to pay a percentage of their winnings to either their victims, or to a charity they nominate.

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