James Forsyth

Hard cases make bad law

Hard cases make bad law
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The row over Fred Goodwin’s pension reminds me of the debate over the alleged killers of Stephen Lawrence and whether the law of double-jeopardy should be altered to allow them to be prosecuted again for his murder.

It is clearly morally wrong that Goodwin should be receiving such massive rewards for failure, a £693,000 annual pension for ruining two great banks. But there’s also little doubt that, thanks to the government not checking the fine print before they signed off on him retiring early, that he is legally entitled to it.

It is tempting to rewrite, or bend, the law to redress this wrong as it is (far more intensely because of the gravity of offence) to waive double-jeopardy so that the alleged killers can be prosecuted. But, in both cases, doing so would set a dangerous precedent. However unpalatable accepting these tough cases is, the consequences of fiddling with the law of contract or the principle of double-jeopardy would be worse, the transfer of an alarming amount of power to the state.

P.S. Tom Winsor’s op-ed in The Times this morning on the Goodwin issue is well worth reading.

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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