Saturday, 10 November 2007

Who pays whom?

Two stories that leave me with so many questions:

  • The Metropolitan Police are fined £175,000, with £385,000 costs over the "Health and Safety" failings in the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes.

Who pays? The taxpayer.

Who is paid? I haven't found an answer yet. I don't think it's the grieving relatives. In which case it's the government (admittedly a different branch).

Who pays the costs? The taxpayer.

Who is paid the costs? The government (courts, government-employed lawyers, Health & Safety Executive).

Why didn't the government cotton on to this money-making wheeze earlier? What a brilliant way to get money from the taxpayer without having to show any useful return (not that the taxpayer actually expects any real return on their hard-earned cash anyway)! Expect to see lots more of the government fining itself our money.

Where's it going to come from? Cuts in public spending? Not this government; why stop spending when it's not your money! More income tax? Haven't got the guts. More stealth taxes? Nice one. More 'public' borrowing? Of course. I'd borrow money if I knew it wasn't me paying it back.

Something funny going on here. I can't quite put my finger on it.


ros said...

Admittedly my understanding of this is nil, but I'd always assumed that when Government fines its own bodies, it's effectively just a reduction of their budget. Which doesn't seem the best way to improve the services they're offering. But, speaking as one who hasn't actually paid tax for nearly 9 years, I don't feel I can complain too strongly.

Neil Jeffers said...

Thank you Ros.

I suspect, however, that a reduction in their budget doesn't equal a reduction in our (obviously not including you, Ros) taxes!

I was expecting a comment from Dr Jeffery by now. This is usually the sort of thing that gets his blood boiling. Obviously working very hard!

dave williams said...

Large organisations often deal in funny money. I wouldn't be surprised if the money moves around notionally. In other words it appears as lines on the accounts but that's it. Result you can sound as impressive as you like without making the slightest bit of difference.

What's your solution Neil. Assuming you agree with the guilty verdict, should the police be fined and the money paid out to the victims?

Should we quickly reverse back from the idea of corporate responsibility and make the individual officers accountable?

Maybe The Ian Blair should personally pay out from his hefty bonus.?

Neil Jeffers said...

So true Dave, about the funny money.

I guess I would have to step back a few paces. I don't believe government should regulate "Health & Safety", so in my world, it wouldn't be possible to bring a health and safety prosecution.

I would want another force, or CPS, to examine whether there was criminal intent (I doubt it). And then, I would expect the Met to have an internal investigation, to see what went wrong, if anything.

The reason why internal investigations don't work in current society is that people are so afraid of media and government reaction. In a world where businesses and police etc were left more to their own devices, I think we would see much more honest self-appraisal.

If the Met concluded genuine (non-criminal) mistakes were made, they should apologise publicly to the family.

Equally, I would be open to the finding that it was just a tragic accident. Modern Britain (even more so, America) doesn't seem to be able to cope with the fact that sometimes, no-one is to blame.

dave williams said...


Criminal intent would be one aspect -however in terms of having a liability to another there's also negligence. There's also the question about where and when a state can take life. Some people consider it slightly ironic that our state has no power to take life after trial,but increasing powers to take it pre-trial.

Should the government regulate health and safety? Again -a lot depends upon what we mean by "government"

Don't you need to split that down into some questions

1. What responsibilities do we have towards each other?
2. How are those responsibilities best articulated -common law, statute, case law?
2. Who is responsible for protecting us against harm?
3. What line of recourse do I have when things go wrong?


Neil Jeffers said...


What a joy to see such eminent distinguishing happening at Distinguo!

Absolutely, negligence may be an issue, but we already have a category of criminal negligence in England, which is not part of health and safety regs.

Excellent point about taking life. I don't know the answer. This particular operation almost seems to have paramilitary features which may invoke the soldier's self-defence (obvious problem, this is not war in a defined, Christian, just-war sense).

Many of our responsibilities towards one another should not be articulated by any kind of law (other than Biblical law), because many of our sins should not be crimes.

I'm not sure anyone is responsible to protect us from harm. If we come to harm through another's malicious intent, the state is responsible to ensure retributive justice. Is the state responsible to protect me from that harm before it happens? I don't know. Danger there of 'punishing' innocent people for something they might do (as de Menezes).

Recourse when things go wrong? Ultimate recourse is God's perfect justice. In some cases, there will be secondary recourse through criminal prosecution. In others, there is no recourse other than God.

Jumbled thoughts, some of which might point one way, some the other, wrt Menezes case. Long day, not yet the end! Preaching on World Poverty this Sunday!

Dave Williams said...


Legally we are looking at more than just criminal negligence or malicious intent. There are criminal aspects -but there's also the Tort side of things as well -civil wrongs -arising out of the question "Who is my neighbour" and what does it mean to love them.

So the question is more about my responsibility to act responsibly -to consider the implications of my actions to have due care for those around.

Admittedly the debate amongst lawyers and students of law has tended to be around what is the best way to afford the protection of the law -case, statute, common -which is a different question to whether protection is a responsibility at all.

How would you determine where the lines of responsibility are drawn.

Dave Williams said...

Will you be publishing your thoughts on world poverty here?

I'm struggling to imagine you handing out make poverty history wrist bands at the back of church!

Michael Dormandy said...

Any Make Poverty History bands made by Neil would have to be distributed by flying pigs...

I would also love to see this sermon on world poverty. To a Christian on the pol-econ left, Neil on World Poverty might seem a bit like a Rabbi preaching on Hebrews, but I'd love to hear what you do with the topic.

Neil Jeffers said...

Harsh Michael.

1. Increasingly I find myself rejecting left-right labels. If one was to define my position as Christian libertarian there would be many policies considered generally right wing, and some considered generally left wing.

2. Your comment (while, no doubt, with tongue in cheek) illustrates to me a blind spot of the left generally. The left has always caricatured the right as being unconcerned about the poor. Nonsense! It is simply that the right think they have more effective methods for relieving poverty. As Wayne Grudem says, "The only long-term solution to world poverty is business."

3. As I remember it, Make Poverty History was half right. Abolish international trade tariffs and protectionism (hooray!) and give more government aid to developing countries (doh!). So no, I won't be handing out wristbands, but they weren't all wrong.

Dave Williams said...


I think the problem is that actually a lot of people who associate with the right -actually don't care about the poor. They are interested in their own selfish gain and think that a fast way to do that is that way.

It's all about distinguishing again isn't it. Between right wing people and right wing thought. Between -the selfishness of some and the genuine cncern of others -IDS for example.

It's also fair to say that behind the noise there's plenty of people who vote left, talk left but are just as selfish and concerned for number 1.

I agree with your assessment of Make Poverty History.

Pete said...

Seriously though, do post some world poverty thoughts. We had a seminar this week in public theology on international aid and development.

Hope the preach goes well Neil.