Compensation for Parole Board failings – Betteridge v UK (case comment)

What was the case about?

Samuel Betteridge, a convicted rapist, won £640 in damages from the UK government. It was reported in the news, but for the full information, the judgment is here.


How come he got that?

Mr Betteridge was convicted of rape in 2005. He was sentenced (after an appeal) to IPP with a minimum period to be served of 3½ years. The case was not a high profile one at the time (we have not been able to find the judgment from when his appeal was allowed).

He had spent 98 days on remand, which left nearly three years before he was eligible for parole (the earliest date was 18th December 2008).

At the time that he was sentenced there had been an explosion in people who were serving short sentences but could not be released until the Parole Board approved their release. This was anticipated by everybody (except perhaps the government who seemed surprised by it). It was a sorry saga – no extra resources were allocated. For more details see the ECHR judgment in Wells v UK [2012] ECHR 2021 and the House of Lord’s decision in James v Secretary of State [2009] UKHL 22 that preceded it.

The basic problem identified in Wells was that the Parole Board would only recommend release, or a move to open conditions, if it is safe to do so. Normally, this would be achieved by an individual completing various courses, but many were caught in a situation where they were not able to prove that they were safe due to these failings.

Mr Betteridge faced a more fundamental problem – the Parole Board notified him on 15th September that he was not suitable to be moved to open conditions (in a ‘pre-tariff advisory opinion’. After that, no Parole Board hearing took place before his tariff expired. So he waited. And waited. The initial hearing was set for May 2009, this was re-scheduled for September and then again to January 2010. That hearing occurred and it was recommended that he be moved to open conditions.

In between, he had Judicially Reviewed the failure to arrange a hearing (the judgment of the High Court is here). This was based on an allegation of a breach of Art 5 ECHR. The relevant part reads: 

Article 5 – Right to liberty and security

1. Everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. No one shall be deprived of his liberty save in the following cases and in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law:

a. the lawful detention of a person after conviction by a competent court;

4. Everyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings by which the lawfulness of his detention shall be decided speedily by a court and his release ordered if the detention is not lawful.

5. Everyone who has been the victim of arrest or detention in contravention of the provisions of this article shall have an enforceable right to compensation.

The Parole Board accepted before the High Court that there was a breach of Art 5(4) due to the failure in arranging a prompt hearing. This was due to them suffering a lack of resources – specifically people to conduct the hearings. The Secretary of State did not accept this, but the High Court found a breach. That is pretty clearly the right result given the fact that there had been no review for approaching a year.

Mr Betteridge’s lawyers did not ask for his release before the High Court. The Court declined to award compensation to him as they concluded that had there been a hearing in time, it was inevitable that Mr Betteridge would not have been released. 

The ECHR found a violation of Art 5 from 18th December 2008 to September 2009 without hesitation. This was inevitable as the High Court in England had found that. The ECHR also found the continual delay until 13th January 2010 to equally be a violation of Art 5. Again, this is hardly a surprising result.

The government argued that the finding of a violation of Art 5 ‘just satisfaction’ of itself. Mr Betteridge claimed £1,500. The ECHR split the difference and awarded the damages to reflect that the delay “gave rise to feelings of frustration which, in the absence of a prompt Parole Board hearing following the delivery of the High Court’s judgment, were not sufficiently compensated by the findings of violations of the Convention”.

That doesn’t seem that much for 14 months unlawful detention?

This reflects the fact that the breach was of the failure of the Parole Board to review his detention whilst serving a sentence that was lawfully imposed and that it was not the case that, had the breach of Art 5 not occurred, he would have been released. The amount of money is not significant in the scheme of things. It is important however to mark the fact that his rights were breached by the government.

Is this case newsworthy or important?

It’s not a particularly surprising judgment and on the fact of it, it isn’t that worth of reporting. ‘Human Rights’, ‘Europe’ and ‘compensation’ are like catnip to some newspapers. Like a pregnant Princess, they just need to turn up to guarantee coverage.

Will the UK appeal?

According to the news reports yes. It’s doubtful that they’ll get very far, and this may be more of a political gesture on Theresa May’s part (the government is happy to waste money on hopeless causes if it may get them votes).

I don’t care about their human rights – why should rapists be getting compo? They should all be castrated!

Here’s the Daily Mail website. Try it. You might like it there.

1 thought on “Compensation for Parole Board failings – Betteridge v UK (case comment)

  1. Andrew

    The Daily Hate Mail website is not recommended to those of a nervous disposition, concerned about their blood-pressure, or able to read without moving their lips.


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