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Gray v Thames Trains Ltd, House of Lords, 17 June 2009

10 July 2009
The issues

Ex Turpi Causa – Claim for Loss of Earnings – whether Claimant could claim for loss of earnings which he had been convicted of manslaughter – criminal conduct – public policy

The facts

The Claimant had been involved in the Ladbroke Grove Rail Crash which had happened on 5 October 1999. He had suffered a severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder causing him to undergo a significant personality change and later stabbed a stranger to death. He pleaded to manslaughter and was detained in a hospital under the Mental Health Act 1983. The Defendant had always accepted liability to Mr Gray for his physical and mental injuries and the legal consequences of the latter. They had always argued that those consequences effectively came to an end when Mr Gray committed manslaughter. Thereafter he had experienced the consequences of his own criminal act. The Judge at first instance had found for the Defendant. The Court of Appeal, whilst considering itself bound by the decision in Clunis v Camden, nonetheless found for the Claimant. The Defendant appealed to the House of Lords.

The decision

It was not sufficient to exclude liability that the immediate cause of the damage was the deliberate of act of the Claimant himself. See Corr v IBC Vehicles Ltd where the Defendant could not escape liability for the death of a workman by his own hand where the state of mind in which he had taken his own life had been caused by the employer’s breach of duty. Was there however a rule of public policy that one could not recover compensation for losses suffered in consequence of one’s own criminal act? There were two possible versions of the rule for which the Defendant’s contended. The wider and simpler version was that applied by the Trial Judge, namely that you cannot recover for damage which is the consequence of your own criminal act. The narrower form was that you cannot recover for damage which is the consequence of a sentence imposed upon you for a criminal act. The leading authority was the decision of the Court of Appeal in Clunis v Camden and Islington Health Authority. The narrower rule had the support of high authority in the Commonwealth – see British Columbia v Zastowny and State Rail Authority of New South Wales v Wiegold. The Court of Appeal had rightly regarded itself as bound by the decision in Clunis. The Court of Appeal was wrong however to go on to hold that, despite its finding that the Rule applied, the Claimant was entitled to compensation for loss of earnings after his arrest. They had come to the view that the question was whether the relevant loss was inextricably linked with the Claimant’s illegal act and they had come to the conclusion that it was not. Lord Hoffman in particular did not understand this point. The Claimant was unable to earn money after August 2001 because he was detained first in police custody, then in prison and then in hospital. He was detained because he committed manslaughter. The question was whether his act of manslaughter had caused his inability to earn. The answer seemed to be plain. He was arrested and detained because he had committed manslaughter. He was sentenced to be detained because he had committed manslaughter. The causation was clear enough and it was hard to think of a more inexplicable link.

It was true that even if he had not committed manslaughter his earning capacity would have been impaired by the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder caused by the Defendant’s negligence. Liability on this counter-factual basis was however precluded by the decision of the House of Lords in Jobling v Associated Dairies Ltd. That was sufficient to dispose of most of the claims which were the subject of the appeal. The Claimant’s claims for loss of earnings after his arrest and for General Damages for his detention conviction and damaged reputation were all claims for damage caused by the lawful sentence imposed upon him for manslaughter, and therefore fell within the narrower version of the Rule. There were some additional claims which might be more difficult to bring within this Rule, such as the claim for an indemnity against any claims which might be brought by dependants of the man who had been killed and the claim for general damages for feelings of guilt and remorse consequent upon the killing. Neither of these was a consequence of the sentence of the Criminal Court. It was necessary therefore to look at the wider version of the Rule. It had been applied by the Court of Appeal in Vellino v Chief Constable of the Greater Manchester Police. In that case the Claimant had been injured as a consequence of jumping from second floor window to escape from the custody of the police. He sued the police for damages claiming that they had not taken reasonable care to prevent him from escaping. Attempting to escape from lawful custody was a criminal offence and the Court of Appeal held that, assuming the police to have been negligent, recovery was precluded because the injury was a consequence of the Claimant’s unlawful act. That decision seemed to be based upon sound common sense. There were varying ways of expressing the test but however it was expressed the wider Rule seemed to cover the remaining heads of damage in this case.

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The content on this page is provided for the purposes of general interest and information. It contains only brief summaries of aspects of the subject matter and does not provide comprehensive statements of the law. It does not constitute legal advice and does not provide a substitute for it.

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