Things are about to get more complicated for anyone wearing an electronic tag, and a lot more expensive for Capita PLC.
Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor Director of Donoghue Solicitors, explains why.
New Electronic Tag Contract
This week the Guardian reported how Capita, the public services outsourcing company, has been awarded a six-year contract to fit and monitor the electronic tags worn by about 100,000 offenders a year.
Capita has replaced G4S and Serco, who both lost their lucrative government contracts after overcharging allegations led to them repaying nearly £180 million.
I have previously blogged about the consequences of electronic tag failures. Then, because of my experience of representing people who claimed compensation for false imprisonment after electronic tag errors, I urged the government to think long and hard before entering into any security related contracts with G4S and Serco. Fortunately for the public, as part of the electronic tag renewal process, the two companies were barred from bidding.
But Capita, the company that won the contract said to be worth £400 million, does not inspire confidence either, having also failed to fulfil its obligations under existing government contracts.
Only three months ago the publicly listed company (‘PLC’) was bailed out by the taxpayer when it failed to clear a backlog of medical assessments for payments to tens of thousands of people with terminal illnesses or disabilities. Presumably Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary who awarded the electronic tag contract, was aware of this before awarding it to Capita.
Conflicts of Interest
By entering into the electronic tag contract, there are two sets of conflicts of interest in play:
- The conflict between the government and Capita; and
- The conflict between Capita, who hold the contract, and their suppliers.
1. Capita’s failure with the medical assessments contract highlights the fundamental flaw in the government’s decision to outsource the electronic tag contract: Capita, like G4S and Serco before it, is a PLC. As such, its duty is to make money for its shareholders, not to protect the public or those fitted with an electronic tag.
With its very recent history of failure, what makes Chris Grayling think that Capita will manage the electronic tag contract any better than its predecessors?
2. It seems to me that the way Capita have set up the contract is a recipe for disaster. In particular, I question the reasons for outsourcing fulfilment of the technical parts of the contract while retaining overall control.
No doubt with the interests of their shareholders in mind, Capita has partnered with three other companies to provide the electronic tag services:
- Capita will manage the contract;
- Steatite will provide the GPS tracking tags;
- Airbus Defence and Space will do the satellite mapping; and
- Telefonica will supply the network.
I expect that Capita’s explanation for partnering with these specialist companies is to save money and avoid investing in resources themselves by outsourcing the supply of technology and services.
But, as I pointed out in my earlier blog post about electronic tagging, equipment malfunctions by one company alone can give rise to unlawful arrest compensation claims against the electronic tag supplier (Serco in the case I described). The chances of errors giving rise to compensation claims with four companies involved are far higher.
Electronic Tag Claim Against G4S and the Court
As Mr. W’s case in the earlier blog post proved, paying thousands of pounds in compensation and legal costs is inevitable when the electronic tag equipment fails to do its job and a wrongful arrest is made.
But, and this is where things get worse for Capita, even if the electronic tag equipment works as it should, the company could still be liable for compensation claims for process failures. In a case I am presently pursuing for Mr. D, he will shortly receive compensation from both G4S and the Court Service for wrongful arrest and detention due to administrative failures.
Mr D was granted conditional bail at Leeds Crown Court on a curfew which allowed him to be away from his home only between 12pm-2pm every day. G4S installed the monitoring equipment at his home and fitted his electronic tag.
With such a short period of free time during the day, it was inevitable that there would be a problem at some point. That day came when Mr. D was given a hospital appointment which meant he would have to be out of the house outside of his normal hours. His criminal solicitors got a variation in the curfew from the Court. Mr. D notified G4S, went to the appointment the next day, and called the company when he returned home.
Three days later officers from South Yorkshire Police arrested Mr. D at home for breach of bail conditions for breaking his curfew. He was kept for over nine hours before being released once the Magistrates Court was satisfied that no breach of bail had occurred.
G4S accepts that it was responsible for the error due to a failure in its processes, and will pay compensation and legal costs for Mr. D’s wrongful arrest and detention.
(Mr. D’s case is interesting as it shows that the Court Service can also be liable for electronic tag claims. Despite explaining what happened to the police and Magistrates when he was first arrested, Mr. D was then arrested the next day, and again on the following day.
The Court Service will also pay compensation, as a staff member unilaterally changed Mr. D’s curfew hours, from 12pm-2pm to 1pm-3pm, causing the second and third arrests. This was not requested by Mr. D’s criminal solicitors, who merely sought to change the curfew for the day Mr. D had a medical appointment, and was not communicated to Mr. D or his lawyers. Negotiations are continuing and I will get Mr. D his compensation shortly.)
Electronic Tag Costs
Capita executives may be satisfied with their latest government contract, but as the experience of G4S and Serco shows, getting it wrong can be an expensive business.
People wearing electronic tags suffered wrongful arrests and justifiably made compensation claims against the two companies, who received bad publicity and had to pay out.
Capita will need to be confident that its own internal processes are watertight and that its outsourced companies and their equipment are working effectively. If not, more electronic tag wrongful arrest compensation claims will be made, and those Capita executives will only have themselves to blame.
To make an electronic tag unlawful arrest claim, call me on 0151 933 1474, or complete the online form on my firm’s website www.donoghue-solicitors.co.uk.