A convicted murderer freed on parole following a landmark human rights case had a compensation payment blocked by the High Court today because he has “disappeared” after being recalled to prison.
Officials acting for Home Secretary David Blunkett told solicitors representing Satpal Ram that he could have the money - if he showed up at a London police station to collect it.
With the backing of legal aid, Ram’s solicitors challenged that decision in judicial review proceedings.
But today senior judge Mr Justice Crane ruled that Mr Blunkett was legally entitled to withhold the payment as it could be used by Ram, who served 15 years in prison before release on licence, to continue to avoid recall to prison following allegations of assault and criminal damage.
The judge said he accepted the Home Secretary’s arguments and the court’s discretion should be exercised so that he should not be obliged to pay the sum due to Ram whilst he remained unlawfully at large.
“The Secretary of State clearly has a public duty to operate the (prison system) release and recall provisions in the public interest,” said the judge.
He said the case was unusual and raised questions of principle, although the sum involved was now only £1,000.
Ram had been convicted of murder and sentenced to life in 1987. with a tariff for retribution and deterrence ultimately set at 11 years before he could be considered for parole.
Ram, who had always maintained his innocence of the killing of Clarke Pearce in a Birmingham restaurant in 1986, was freed in June 2002 following the landmark European Court decision.
The Parole Board had recommended his release in October 2000, but the Home Secretary rejected the recommendation.
However the European Court ruled in May 2002 in the case of Stafford v UK that, after the expiry of a tariff, a prisoner could only continue to be detained if it was justified because he was dangerous or posed a risk associated with the original sentence of murder.
A month later, the Home Secretary ordered Ram’s release on licence.
Legal proceedings launched by Ram were settled with the Home Secretary agreeing to pay him £20,000 damages for the period he had wrongly continued to be held in prison.
Subsequently costs arising from a separate personal injury claim, which Ram discontinued, were set off against the £20,000.
That left just £1,000 which the Home Secretary was now liable to pay, said the judge.
However in May 2003 Ram’s licence to remain free was revoked as he was wanted for questioning following allegations of assault and criminal damage.
Ram did not surrender and had since disappeared.
Home Office officials told Ram’s solicitors that the outstanding damages, together with interest, “would be paid by a cheque made out to him, available for him personally at Islington police station at 10am on September 12 2003”.
Ram had been in touch with his solicitors and was aware of the cheque, but did not attend the police station to collect the cheque.
The judge said: “The Secretary of State has maintained his position that the outstanding sum will be paid only to the claimant personally.
“In effect he is not prepared to pay the sum to the claimant while the claimant remains unlawfully at large.”
Through his solicitors, Ram, although unlawfully at large, had demanded payment.
[The above article was published on the website of The Scotsman newspaper at 5.10pm on January 12, 2004, immediately after the court had thrown out Ram’s application. It is reprinted here verbatim].
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