The Government Legal Department has been criticised by a district judge for its ‘extremely limited assistance’ to the court in a prisoner’s claim for damages.
Kevan Thakrar, who is serving a minimum of 35 years for three murders, sought £543.16, as well as general and aggravated or exemplary damages for damage to his property.
He claimed that in the course of being moved from one prison to another in 2013, his stereo was broken, a number of CDs were damaged beyond repair, and four of his books were lost.
Thakrar also complained that an order he placed in the canteen at HMP Woodhill (pictured) on 10 June 2013 was never fulfilled and that the money concerned was never refunded.
District judge Hickman, sitting in the County Court at Milton Keynes, said Thakrar did not rely on legal aid to bring his claim and that lawyers were not involved on his side.
However, his judgment states: ‘Where one party is represented and the other is not, it is generally considered to be the duty of the legally qualified advocate to assist the court even against his own client’s interest.
‘I have received submissions from the Government Lawyer’s Department (sic) on behalf of the ministry [of justice]; I regret to say that I have found them of extremely limited assistance because they lacked objective discussion either of the law or of the evidence.’
Ruling on the CDs, Hickman said Charlotte Capes, of the Government Legal Department, had ‘gone to the trouble of ascertaining what she says is the cost of replacing these items via Amazon’.
But Hickman was ‘somewhat troubled by her statement that “when it is not clear which album the claimant is referring to within the list annexed to his particulars of claim I have searched for the relevant CD listed on his property card or found a similar title" – either she has found the appropriate item or she has not.’
The judgment states that Thakrar has previously brought proceedings against the MoJ and its predecessors in relation to the loss of or damage to his property in prison.
‘Mr Thakrar complains that after his previous claim against the ministry he was “smeared” by the then secretary of state for justice with the intention of discouraging him from making any claim in future,’ Hickman states.
‘The ministry’s lawyers respond to this in indignant terms suggesting that the allegation is “scandalous and an abuse of process”.
‘A more measured response would perhaps have been to observe firstly that it is difficult to “smear” a person who is a convicted multiple murderer and secondly that the allegation is beside the point because not even Mr Thakrar suggests that what has happened to his property, then or now, took place with the personal approval of the then minister.’
Hickman said Thakrar might have been on ‘stronger’ ground ‘had he drawn attention to the apparent culture of non-compliance on the part of the ministry’.
For instance, according to the judgment, the canteen order was placed on 10 June 2013. The MoJ refunded Thakrar £31.81 on 14 January 2015.
Hickman awarded Thakrar £1,000, inclusive of any compensatory award. He added: 'Some would say that the fact that a claim of this kind can be dealt with at modest cost through the county court system is a good advertisement for the civil justice system of this country.’
A spokesperson for the Government Legal Department said: 'We received the judgment today and are now considering it in detail with the National Offender Management Service.'
A spokesperson for the Prison Service said it ‘robustly’ defends claims made against it ‘where evidence allows’ and has successfully defended two-thirds of prisoner claims over the last three years.
‘We are currently considering this judgment and whether there are grounds to lodge an appeal,’ the spokesperson said.