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Government ‘compensation’ for criminal acts

It has always puzzled me why the state pays ‘compensation’ to victims of certain crimes. Why are fellow taxpayers robbed to compensate an individual for a misfortune? Surely that is a job for an insurance policy.

There are now calls for victims of international terrorism to be financially compensated and again, I cannot quite figure why the general public should be required to stump up for this. Whilst ‘acts of war’ and terrorism are often specifically excluded from insurance policies, it is possible to find policies which include even that if you are willing to pay premiums. It just seems odd to me that folks should have any expectation of a non-charitable, non-insured payment from fellow national subjects.

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15 comments to Government ‘compensation’ for criminal acts

  • Quite.

    It did occur to me, when I first heard of the scheme, that its only justification might just conceivably be that if the first duty of the state is to protect you, and it fails in that duty, then compensation is a reasonable response.

    I’m pretty sure that this is not the rationale, however.

    In any event, I find the scheme distasteful in the extreme and all the more so when applied to, for instance, non-dependant relatives of victims.

  • guy herbert

    I’d speculate that its original logic was to provide for some funds in lieu of compensation that the perpetrator might be ordered to pay (if caught, and if solvent when caught), rather in the manner of the fund that compensates those involved in road accidents with uninsured drivers.

    But the hyping of the scheme in recent years is more to do with the cult of the victim, if you ask me. Now we have press, police and politicians who play up the emotional key of totemic cases in order to obscure difficult questions of culpability. The talk of ‘justice for victims’ is convenient drama, in order to dispense with just trials and appropriate punishments for the accused and the guilty respectively. The narrative of the courts shows sign of being changed from the rational fact-finding tribunal of Enlightenment ideal, to the theatre of social outrage familiar from surviving non-European traditions.

  • Verity

    Guy Herbert writes: The narrative of the courts shows sign of being changed from the rational fact-finding tribunal of Enlightenment ideal, to the theatre of social outrage familiar from surviving non-European traditions.

    Yes. It is astounding how quickly the elevation of the victim has taken root in Britain. One minute’s silence for the millions of souls who gave their lives so we could live in freedom. Three minutes’ silence for people who were on London Transport at the wrong time. Murder is met not with outrage, but as a sentimental excuse to lay cellophane wrapped flowers on a doorstep, or a spot in a pavement, or against a wall. It’s no longer about rational thought. It’s about “feelings”, and the more “feelings” you have, the more worthy a human being you are.

  • Rich

    Just reading on The Grauniad (Link)about the inquiry into the Egyptian Bombing in July (Why there is going to be one and not one into the London Bombing is another matter), anway, here is the helpful comment near the end.

    “The British government has told victims they should seek compensation from the perpetrators of the suicide bomb attacks – the insurance industry washes its hands of its responsibility and hides behind exclusion clauses.

    Quite how you seek compensation from a suicide bomber, a succesful one at that, is a mystery to me.

  • J

    I agree entirely that people should be free to insure themselves against misfortune, if they so wish.

    The only real justification for these sorts of payouts is as a symbolic or token gesture of national support or sympathy. So, in the case of July 7th where the crime might reasonably be seen as ‘an attack on the nation’, or in the case of some unusually severe, nation affecting disaster (Hillsborough, perhaps), some token payment doesn’t seem unreasonable. It serves a similar purpose to a commemorative plaque or statue, for instance.

    A good example might be the Manchester bombing – public money spent not simply re-building but significantly improving the area affected.

    These tokens however, would be far smaller than the amounts talked about in the media – perhaps 10k per (dead) person paid to next of kin, and 5k per serious injury, paid to the victim.

  • One way of seeking compensation for suicide bombings might be to hold the families of the murderers responsible, instead of inviting them to the funerals and feeling sorry for them.

  • I suppose a pragmatic justification for the practice would be that it lessens the negative impact and thus the overall effectiveness of the terrorist attack itself. It might make the attacks less “terrifying” in the long run.

    I have wondered whether writing a check to some organization the terrorist oppose every time they strike might serve as a deterrent. What would be the effect if every time Islamist terrorist claimed credit for killing anyone world wide, we cut Israel a million dollar check? That would certainly take some the wind out their sails.

  • Verity

    Shannon Love – I’m not sure that it would, although it’s certainly an attractive idea on the surface. But the stream of money from Saudi Arabia is bottomless and any cheque from the West to Israel would be matched by the Saudis.

    Plus, in the demented minds of these people, they think they’re following orders from god. Very hard to militate against moonbattery.

    I do like the idea of the families of suicide nitwits having to compensate the victims, and it is an idea with which they themselves should feel perfectly comfortable as the concept of blood money is mother’s milk to them. My own preference, which I doubt would find favour with Tony Blair, would be putting to death the mother or father of each suicide murderer. After all, they brought him up in this vile cult.

  • I see it as part of the implicit pact between the population and government to entrench ‘compensation culture’/’blame shift’/’denial of responsibilty’. The people get the prospect of (more) unearnt cash while the government makes people dependent on them for reward, alongside tax credits, state education, health…

    Bread and circuses.

  • K

    If it could be well done I might be for it. But it will deteriorate into another bureaucracy indifferent to fraud. Better by far to give the medical care and, as needed, the standard disability pension to those unable to return to an independent life.

    Bush meant well but the precedent of giving millions to those losing relatives in the WTC was a mistake. And worse, the amount paid varied was based upon the victims supposed earning power.

    Some sort of uniform transition payment sufficent to support the family for a year or so would have been better.

  • Tom

    In the specific case of the compensation to the families of the WTC, I thought the point was to short curcuit a huge, disruptive wave of lawsuits against the airlines, port authority, aircraft manufacturers, insurance companies, etc, and that agreeing not to sue was one of the requirements to take the money. The amount varied somewhat with earning power, because that that would have been a major basis of the damage awards if people successfully sued.

  • Jacob

    This is part of a more general question: should government supply any disater relief to it’s citizens ?
    Should gov. help hurricane victims, flood victims, tsunami, earthquake victims ?

    Some people might say: no. Let people insure themselves, and be rescued by insurance companies in case of catastrophe. Those who aren’t insured – too bad for them – they’ll get, maybe, some help from private charity.

    Others say: let’s pool our resources, via the government, and help the victims of disasters. Government serves as some insurer of last resort.

  • Verity

    Jacob – This is an interesting question. My own view – even as a libertarian – would be that realistically, only the government has the resources to take over in large disasters. They are the ones with the aircraft to transport manpower, materiels, food, the disaster- fighting equipment, thousands of trained, disciplined personnel, etc.

    However, I think help should be limited to one’s own country. I don’t approve of deploying our military to other countries to help out with their disasters – unless that country is prepared to foot the bill. It sounds cruel, I know, but I don’t think we should have got involved in the Pakistani earthquake disaster or the tsunami. People who sent money paid twice: once through their taxes and once through their private donation.

  • K

    Tom pointed out that the WTC funding prevented the lawsuits, etc. I had forgotten that point. And perhaps it did work out better for the country than years of litigation.

    My answer would be that it sets the wrong precedent by saying the government will pay when you are harmed by others.

    An aside. Only a week or so ago a suit was decided about the original WTC bombing (in 1993?). Turned out the Port Authority which pretty much zones all major construction in NYC is the culprit. The judgement was/is some astonishing amount.

    And so American justice continues to screw any bystander having money whether they caused the harm or not.

  • Daveon

    It’s about “feelings”, and the more “feelings” you have, the more worthy a human being you are.

    The idea of relating empathy, which is what we are really talking about, to humanity is hardly a new concept. Philip K Dick wrote some excellent essays on this very subject in the 60s and it was, in part, core to the plot of Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep.