Innocent until proven guilty – tell it to the insurance company

Possibly not the most festive post but I was struck by a recent report in the press (Herald, 15 December) that the police in Strathclyde had opened up a new war on organised crime by passing on information to insurers on “gangsters” in order to make it more difficult for them to get life insurance which would pay out to their families in the event that they are killed.

Whilst it is difficult not to empathise with the general sentiment that honest law abiding punters are picking up the tab for these sorts of claim because “gangsters” won’t ‘fess up their occupation (presumably) when they take out the insurance, leaving insurers taking on a risk which they have not priced, the arrangements that have been put in place (if the report was correct) do raise a number of important issues (and concerns).

Firstly, the police have apparently agreed information sharing protocols with a number of insurers but are declining to say which ones.  The reports suggest that part of the reason for that is the fear of reprisal but it’s not really clear who would be at risk since (again, presumably) if a “gangster” knows that the police share information with insurance company X then he (or she) would probably avoid that insurance company when thinking about his (or her) life cover.

Secondly, and in my mind as importantly, some of the information is such that it needs to remain confidential and can’t be disclosed to the individual concerned.  As the senior officer quoted in the article put it, “Some of the information we give – because of the how, the where and from whom we got it – can’t be used in court. But that does not mean we should sit on the information and not share it with other legitimate bodies.”  Again, difficult not to empathise at one level but suppose the information concerned was just plain wrong.  Maybe the information relates to one individual who is, indeed, a “gangster” but because he has a common name, it is wrongly tagged to another individual.  Or perhaps, the information is just wrong – full stop – and an individual is tagged as a “gangster” and he actually isn’t.  Presumably, you have your insurance application declined and can’t work out why because the information on which the decision was based is never disclosed to you.

Don’t get me wrong.  This blogger is all for doing whatever can be done to make life as difficult as possible for the criminal fraternity but am I the only one to have concerns about information about individuals being shared on a covert basis without that individual (a) even knowing it is happening, and (b) getting the chance to challenge accuracy of the information.  I know that many people will take the view (my mum amongst them!) that the ends justify the means and that gangsters don’t deserve any protection but there needs to be some transparency around data sharing because without it, how do we hold accountable those who are holding the data and sharing it around?  Gangsters today, who knows who tomorrow.

A final thought and it might just be my ignorance of all things “gangster” related but if someone is murdered in gangland violence would that not be the time for the insurance company to look at the claim and take a decision as to whether the original application made full disclosure of all relevant circumstances?  Just a thought.

3 Responses to “Innocent until proven guilty – tell it to the insurance company”


  1. 1 Gavin Ward (WardblawG) January 6, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    Good point Alistair. Just to reiterate what @highlandlawyer said last night on Twitter,

    “@BrodiesTechBlog @WardblawG So perhaps anyone refused insurance should now as a matter of course make a data protection request?”

    Will be interesting to see what becomes of this. Looking forward to more legal journalism from Brodies :)

  2. 2 Alistair Sloan January 6, 2011 at 1:30 am

    This caught my eye as well. I’m not a DPA expert or anything, but I do remember from my many lessons on DPA that there is some provision somewhere about having incorrect information about you corrected…how can this be achieved if the individual doesn’t even know what the information is or that the insurance company even holds it?

    If the information was shown to be false and the individual were to come into possession of it would that not leave the Police open to a defamation case in the civil courts?

  3. 3 Criminal Defence Lawyers Edinburgh January 6, 2011 at 1:17 am

    Some interesting issues raised here Grant.

    “…difficult not to empathise at one level but suppose the information concerned was just plain wrong. Maybe the information relates to one individual who is, indeed, a “gangster” but because he has a common name, it is wrongly tagged to another individual. Or perhaps, the information is just wrong – full stop – and an individual is tagged as a “gangster” and he actually isn’t.”

    Agreed that there may be serious risks to justice and the rule of law, even though the discussion is aimed at situations outwith the court system. Nevertheless, as we have seen with Cadder v HMA, it is important that suspects, even those in detention or upon interview, have a full set of rights including access to a solicitor. If the Herald’s findings are correct, we should indeed be concerned, with further investigation warranted.

    Criminal Defence Lawyers in Edinburgh


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