• In the case of Gray v Thames Trains Ltd 2009 1 ac 1339 it was held that a rule of law that was based on public policy and which was an aspect of the principle of ex turpi causa precluded a person from recovering compensation either for losses suffered in consequence of his own criminal act or for damage that was the consequence of a sentence impose on him for a criminal act.
  • A claimant who had committed manslaughter because of psychological problems caused by the negligence of a third part was therefore precluded from recovering from that third party general damages and loss of earnings flowing from his crime.

Facts of the Case

  • The appellant train operator appealed, and the respondent cross appealed against a decision that a rule of law prevented the respondent from recovering general damages but did not prevent him from recovering special damages for loss of earnings, in consequence of his own criminal act.
  • The respondent had been a passenger on a train involved in the Ladbroke Grove rail crash.
  • The train was operated by the appellant and the accident had been caused by their negligence.
  • The experience caused him to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
  • While he was receiving treatment and taking medication for that condition, he stabbed to death a pedestrian who had stepped into the path of his car.
  • He pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility caused by PTSD and was sentenced to be detained in hospital.
  • In a negligence action against the appellant, he claimed general damages for his conviction, detention and feelings of guilt and remorse and for damage to his reputation.
  • He claimed special damages in respect of his loss of earnings until the date of trail and continuing and he sought an indemnity against any claims which might be brought by dependants of his victim.
  • The trial judge decided that a rule of law based on public policy precluded a person from recovering, in consequence of his own criminal act, both general and special damages.

Issues in Gray v Thames Trains Ltd 2009 1 ac 1339

  • Whether the intervention the respondent’s criminal act in the casual relationship between the appellants breaches of duty and the damage of which he complained prevented him from recovering that loss caused by the criminal act. But for the accident and the stress disorder it caused, the respondent would not have killed and would not have suffered the consequences for which he sought compensation; on the other hand, the killing was a voluntary and deliberate act.

Held by House of Lords

  • Appeal allowed; cross appeal dismissed.

Lord Hoffmann

  • The House of Lords held that a person could not recover damages that resulted from a sentence imposed on him for a criminal act.

“Neither the claim for general damages for feelings of guilt and remorse consequent upon the killing nor the claim for an indemnity against any claims which might be brought by dependants of the dead pedestrian was a consequence of the sentence of the criminal court. However, the wider version of the rule, applied by the judge at first instance, covered those heads of damage. G’s liability to compensate the dependants of the dead pedestrian was an immediate, inextricable consequence of his having intentionally killed him. The same was true of his feelings of guilt and remorse. The judge at first instance was therefore right and his judgment was restored. (3) (Per Lord Phillips) It was not necessarily right to make no distinction between a sentence of imprisonment and a hospital order. While a conviction for an offence punishable with imprisonment was necessary to confer jurisdiction for the imposition of a hospital order, the offence leading to that conviction might have no relevance to the decision to make the order. Where the sentencing judge made it clear that the defendant’s offending behaviour played no part in the decision to impose the hospital order, it was strongly arguable that the order should be treated as being a consequence of the defendant’s mental condition and not of his criminal act. In that event ex turpi causa would not apply.”  Pg.6