Sunday, 13 November 2011

James Stanbury

Can you quantify the cost of human suffering?
I had a fascinating conversation with James Stanbury, partner at leading forensic accountants RGL this week, as this is a subject he knows about in granular detail. James is best known for his work on claim quantification and economic loss in the context of commercial/personal litigation and insurance matters.  He works very closely with solicitors – their focus being issues of liability, his focus being quantum. He is a member of the Academy of Expert Witnesses and has prepared over 400 expert witness reports on civil and criminal claims.

But  as a leading practitioner in his specialist area, he is often invited to write about slightly left-field topics, involving high level issues. In conversation with a journalist this week, the subject of quantifying remedies for human rights violations came up, and the reparations programmes of recent years.  Having blogged just two weeks ago about FW de Klerk’s role in ending apartheid by reshaping the rule of law, South Africa’s 2003 reparations programme immediately came to mind.   A more recent example is of course the formal apology and modest compensation offered in 2010 to women victims in Sierra Leone following the country’s 10-year armed conflict.  And currently the Moroccan government is implementing both individual and community-based reparations for more than 50 years of widespread abuse.

The idea that victims of human rights violations are entitled to remedies is relatively new says James: “It is only in the last 15 years or so that international law has really developed to allow the pursuit of global justice, to create formal processes to redress the harm suffered by individuals at the hands of dictatorial and abusive regimes and to impose accountability on their protagonists.” 

But how can you quantify such damage?  “Reparations are not intended to replicate the tort system” he says, “so the awards tend not to be comparable.  Of course one of the main dissatisfactions with reparation awards is that they reflect insufficient compensation to the victim – in turn reflecting the enormous difficulty - and ultimate impossibility - of quantifying harm and the realisation that no amount of money can compensate an individual for the loss of a family members of for the trauma of torture. Awards should not be interpreted as an effort to put a price on the effects of harm, but merely as a contribution – and, critically, as an acknowledgement (even if token) that harm has been done."  Quite.


Sometimes the most interesting conversations are the ones that tell you something surprising you didn't know about a person you see every day.  That was my experience this week. I've worked closely on a number of client accounts with our Mr. Elliott Burton for a number of years, but it wasn't until a meal at this week's staff outing that I learned he had auditioned for the part of Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter, ultimately played by Robert Pattinson. Of course Robert Pattinson went on from this to international heartthrob status in the Twilight series. So to think this could have been Elliott put us all in reflective mood. Thank goodness fate dealt its hand and he wasn't deprived of his glittering career in Legal PR!  (Thanks to Honey for the inspired artwork.)


The pool of musical talent at Allen & Overy was the other big surprise of the week.  Their rendition of Bizet's Carmen at Sadlers Wells was a revelation. The cast of 100+ A&O employees and alumni (also Roll On Friday co-founder Matthew Rhodes OBE in the role of Morales), plus 50 schoolchildren, raised over £15,000 for their chosen charities -  the British Red Cross and three East London primary schools: Christ Church, Sir John Cass and Stepney Greencoat.  The cast was coached by City Music Services, a fascinating company that offers 'a unique and creative dimension to time-challenged City business people's lives, by offering singing, instrumental and dance lessons in the workplace'Monteras off to Don McGown, the A&O corporate partner who heads the firm’s Music Programme.  Inspiring stuff!

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