Men who wrongly served 24 years in prison denied compensation

'Victims of miscarriages of justice can never be truly "compensated" but the current law needs to be scrapped,' campaigners say

Wednesday 30 January 2019 17:32 GMT
Sam Hallam leaving the Royal Courts of Justice as judges quash murder conviction

Two men who between them spent 24 years in prison before their convictions were overturned are not entitled to compensation, judges have ruled.

Sam Hallam, who was convicted of murder, and Victor Nealon, who was found guilty of attempted rape, finally lost their legal fight to be compensated at the Supreme Court following defeats at the High Court and Courts of Appeal.

Both had been freed several years earlier after appeal judges said new evidence made their convictions unsafe, but both had applications for compensation rejected by the Justice Secretary.

Mr Hallam, from east London, served more than seven years behind bars after he was sentenced to life as a teenager following his conviction at the Old Bailey in 2005 for the murder of a trainee chef.

Mr Nealon, who is in his 50s and originally from Dublin, was given a life sentence after his trial at Hereford Crown Court for the attempted rape of a woman in Worcestershire, and served 17 years in prison.

Their convictions were quashed in 2012 and 2013, respectively.

Lawyers argued on their behalf that the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which governs compensation payments, was amended in 2014 in a way that contravened the European Convention on Human Rights’ clause on the presumption of innocence, because it required a person to prove they were innocent if they sought an award.

But on Wednesday judges declined by a five-to-two majority to rule that refusal to grant compensation was incompatible with the men’s human rights.

Their compensation claims under the 1988 Act were rejected on the basis that it was not the case, as required by the Act, that a “new or newly discovered fact shows beyond reasonable doubt that there has been a miscarriage of justice”.

Campaigners called the ruling “deeply disappointing” and the amendment to the Act “shameful”.

Emily Bolton, legal director of law charity the Centre for Criminal Appeals, which works on miscarriages of justice cases, said: “Victims of [such circumstances] can never be truly ‘compensated’ but the current law needs to be scrapped.

“The Supreme Court was wrong not to declare this shameful law incompatible with the presumption of innocence.

“The government should act to ensure all miscarriage of justice victims get the apologies they deserve as well as the support they need to help rebuild their lives.”

Daniel Machover, head of civil law at Hickman and Rose solicitors, represented miscarriage of justice victim Andrew Adams, who lost a similar case at the Supreme Court in 2011.

Mr Adams served nearly 14 years in jail for murder before his conviction was overturned, and he too was denied compensation.

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Mr Machover said: “This is a deeply disappointing decision which reinforces the unfair principle that innocent people who have been wrongly convicted of crimes cannot be properly compensated for the terrible impact this has had on their lives, even after fighting through to a second successful appeal.

“It means that victims of long-running and egregious miscarriages of justice can be victimised twice over – once by the trial court which found them guilty, then again by a government minister, which prevents them getting their lives back on track.”

In a statement following the Supreme Court ruling Mr Hallam said he was “still having to fight to prove my innocence”. He added: ”My lawyers will look at an appeal or what I can do next. This terrible law needs to be changed.”

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