Wrongful conviction payouts to be cut by £5m

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The Independent Online

Compensation for miscarriages of justice is to be cut by £5m a year under plans to curb payments to people with previous convictions or those who do not co-operate with the legal system.

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, floated the idea of a new verdict of "not proven" in appeal cases as part of an urgent review of the legal test used to quash a conviction. He wanted to cut the number of people acquitted on "technicalities".

Under plans announced yesterday, compensation for wrongful convictions would be capped at £500,000, compared with the record payout of £2.1m, to bring payments in line with those for victims of crime. Last year payments totalled around £8m. Mr Clarke said he would scrap a discretionary compensation scheme that pays out £2m a year and place curbs on the statutory scheme.He said that the current system bred "cynicism". He cited the case of a man convicted of sexual offences against children, who was paid £10,000 in compensation when offences against one child were quashed on appeal, even though other convictions stood.

But Gerry Conlon, one of the Guildford Four, who were wrongly imprisoned for an IRA bombing in 1974, said he was "absolutely horrified". He said Charles Clarke should "cut the pensions of the forensic scientists, the police officers, who have lied or contaminated or fabricated evidence".

Bill Bache, solicitor for Angela Cannings, cleared by the Court of Appeal of killing her sons after 18 months in prison, told the BBC: "An innocent person who suffered a wrongful conviction is just as entitled to compensation as the victim of a mugger."

David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, added: "This seems an extraordinary reflection of the values of this Government. It is a longstanding principle that compensation should be paid to those who have been wrongly imprisoned."

The Home Secretary acknowledged that any reform would be controversia but the system needed change.

Miscarriages of justice

* As one of the Birmingham Six, Paddy Hill's case was a celebrated example of a miscarriage of justice. Mr Hill, 62, was released from jail 15 years ago after serving 16 years in prison. He was offered about £1m, although he was charged £50,000 for bed and board for his time in jail. Compensation will now be capped at £500,000.

* In 2002, Angela Cannings was wrongly convicted of killing her son Jason in 1991 and son Michael in 1997. She was given a life sentence but, after spending 18 months in jail, her sentence was overturned. Last year, the Home Office announced she would receive compensation. Charles Clarke's new plans would limit future payouts.