If you hadn’t heard of Ian Watkins, or the band Lostprophets of which he was the lead singer, before last month, you will have now. Mr Watkins pleaded guilty in November to 13 (or 11, depending on which newspaper you read) child sex and child pornography offences.
He will be sentenced on 18th December 2013. In the lead up to that, it was reported that since his arrest he had earned about £100,000 in royalties. This has gone down quite badly in some quarters, as you can imagine.
Ironically, there was a spike in earning when the pleas were entered (which will be repeated when he is sentenced) because each time clips of the Lostprophets are played on the news, he will collect a fee. It will be small, but it all adds up.
What can the criminal courts do?
The Judge at sentencing can make three different financial orders. Firstly, he could be directed to pay the costs of the proceedings incurred by the prosecution in bringing the case against him. Secondly, he can be fined as well as being sent to prison. Thirdly, he can be ordered to pay compensation to his victims.
Generally, someone who is going to prison for a very long time (as Mr Watkins will be) won’t be ordered to pay any financial penalty as it’s pretty futile. Here it may be different however. I would expect an order for costs to be made, but it will be difficult for the Judge to decide whether a fine is appropriate and how much compensation should be paid. Also, in relation to compensation, it is not clear if all of the victims have been identified.
Because some of the offences (if not all) pre-date the 1st October 2012, he won’t have to pay the £120 Victim Surcharge that would otherwise be mandatory.
What the Judge cannot do is make a general order ‘confiscating’ Mr Watkins’ right to royalties in the future. Even if there is not going to be much deliberate airplay for the Lostprophets in future, there will still be royalties from other sources (see here for more details).
There is a partial exception to this general rule under the Forfeiture Act 1982. This provides that a Judge must (in cases of murder) and may (in cases of other unlawful killings) prohibit someone from inheriting from a person that they have killed. So, if a man murders his wife, he can’t under the common law or a will inherit her property, but he won’t lose any property that he already has.
Can the civil courts do anything?
In short, no. The victims of the offending can sue Mr Watkins, and may well do so (although there are various issues with some of the child pornography offences where different issues would apply).
Again though, the court would have to set an actual figure to be paid, and, once that is paid, any royalties that Mr Watkins does earn will go to him.
But if he’s a paedophile doesn’t he forfeit the right to this money?
That is one point of view and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some outrage in the press about it, along with a backbench MP (probably Tory ones) popping up to say something should be done about it.
But, it doesn’t work like that. Someone who is a prisoner doesn’t lose all their rights. It may not be popular (and Mr Watkins may not be a sympathetic cause) but he did earn the money (and the right to earn money in the future off the back of it) and he is entitled to it, less anything that the court may order him to pay.
Up until 1814 the position was different. The general rule was that anyone convicted of a felony (broadly equivalent to a crime that would be tried in the Crown Court) forfeited all their goods and lands, and whilst gramophone sales weren’t huge at the start of the 19th Century, they would have been included.
This idea, related to the idea of the ‘corruption of the blood’ was chipped away at in the appropriately named Corruption of Blood Act 1814, before the principle that forfeiture of property as a result of a conviction for a felony, was finally abolished in 1870.
Personally, whilst I can understand the outrage at Mr Watkins actions, I do not believe that he should lose all his rights. Therefore, as unpalatable as it may seem to some, it is right that general ideas of forfeiture, or making someone an ‘non-person’ (which is sort of what used to happen) don’t apply. Whilst there may be calls to change the law, we would be going back 200 years.