07:45, May 08 340 0 theguardian.com

2018-05-08 07:45:06
Miscarriage of justice victims unfairly denied compensation, court told

Most victims of past notorious miscarriages of justice would have been denied compensation under restrictive rules now in force, the supreme court has heard.

Opening the claim on behalf of two men who spent a total of 24 years in jail for crimes they did not commit, Heather Williams QC said that successful cases would be restricted to a “very narrow category” where applicants can prove they are innocent.

The legal challenge is over the lawfulness of a new statutory definition of a “miscarriage of justice” added to the compensation scheme under the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act in 2014.

“If it had been enacted at the time, it would have precluded statutory compensation being paid by the state in the vast majority of the most notorious cases where wrongful convictions were set aside after lengthy periods of imprisonment,” Williams said.

The legal definition is contrary to the presumption of innocence enshrined in article 6 of the European convention on human rights, which guarantees the right to a fair trial. It states that everyone should be presumed to be innocent until proven guilty.

The supreme court case has been brought by Sam Hallam, who served seven years for murder, and Victor Nealon, who spent 17 years in jail for attempted rape. Both were freed after the court of appeal ruled they should not have been convicted. Neither, however, has ever received any apology or recompense.

Hallam from Hoxton, east London, was released in 2012. He had been convicted at the age of 17 of participating in a gang fight that left one man dead. His original trial heard conflicting testimonies in which witnesses retracted their identification evidence and his mobile phone was never examined to support his claim that he had never been at the scene of the attack.

Nealon, a former postal worker, was released in 2014. He had originally been found guilty in 1997 of the attempted rape of a woman leaving a nightclub in Redditch, Worcestershire. His conviction was overturned by the court of appeal after fresh DBA evidence indicated someone else had been the attacker. Nealon could have left prison after seven years but was repeatedly refused parole because he refused to accept his guilt or undergo rehabilitation for the crime he was accused of.

Williams said that numerous other European countries had post-acquittal compensation schemes which recognised the European convention definition. The government, she added, had failed to identify a single other scheme where a presumption of innocence did not operate.

The campaign organisation Justice, which monitors the courts, has intervened in the case to support both men’s claims.

In written submissions, it said: “Upon release, victims of miscarriage of justice still receive just £46 and a travel warrant. There is no automatic accommodation, social security assistance or psychiatric assessment available to them.

“Justice is not aware of any cases where an explanation or apology for the wrongful conviction has been given to a victim of a miscarriage of justice .”

Before the hearing Paddy Hill, who was wrongfully imprisoned for 17 years as part of the Birmingham Six, joined a protest outside the supreme court against the restrictive compensation rules.

“I think this regulation is unlawful and diabolical,” he said. “This rule gives no compensation. It gives the police carte blanche to drag anyone off the street, falsify evidence against them and put them in prison for years and years. You get no help and no compensation when you get out. It’s disgraceful.”

The hearing continues.