Friday, 24 April 2009

A vindictive prosecution - and in our name

The Royal Bank of Scotland appears to have failed in its effort to make a young G20 protester pay £40,000 in damages. The protester, who can't be named for legal reasons, was found breaking some IT equipment after some people broke into RBS during the April 1 demonstrations.

The prosecutor, Ann Crighton, said that RBS was seeking £40,000 from the protester to cover the expenses incurred by the crowd's vandalism of RBS property.

The defence lawyer, Miranda Ching, made the eminently reasonable point that if her client was to pay for any damage it should be for the equipment she was provenly responsible for breaking - a computer keyboard and monitor.

The RBS's legal stance in this case - not merely prosecuting, but seeking £40,000 damages - can only be described as vindictive.

But not only is this vindictive, it is something that all of us are implicated in. After all, as taxpayers we citizens own a large share in RBS. In acting in the company's interests, its prosecutors were acting, ultimately, in large part, in our name and on our behalf.

Yet, had I been consulted, I would not have agreed to this prosecution. I don't want this kind of vindictiveness in my name or on my behalf. But despite the fact that I am a part-owner of RBS, there is no way I can hold its management accountable for such decisions.

Of course, the underlying point goes much wider than this. The bank's management is no more accountable to me, and my fellow citizens, for its investment decisions than it is for its litigation strategy. So while I might take great care as an individual to engage in 'ethical investment', as a taxpayer I am conscripted, with no effective mechanism of accountability, into providing support for investments that I might find utterly unethical.

So this case helps bring home a more general issue: Now that we citizens own so much of the banking system, how do we hold its decision-makers accountable?


Sunder Katwala said...

I think I would be in favour of a prosecution. As you say, the issue of responsibility for particular damage may be the key issue in this case, though there are also (narrower) examples where joint responsibility of a group is appropriate.

John of Enfield said...

We are all responsible for the consequences of our actions. The sooner this young girl understands this fundamental principle the better.

Stuart White said...

Sunder, John:

to be clear, I am not questioning her prosecution as such, but the attempt to recoup £40,000 in damages from her.

Specifically to John: I would have thought the principle of facing the consequences of your actions would actually preclude trying to get someone to pay for criminal damage they haven't caused.

Stuart White said...

Further to Sunder and John: I have now edited the post to clarify the sense in which I find RBS's stance vindictive.