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Charity that fights miscarriages of justice says law must change after Strasbourg ruling

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A leading charity has thrown its weight behind fresh demands for the UK’s “brutal test” for compensation for miscarriages of justice victims to be scrapped. The demand comes after a key ruling by the Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights.

The court on Tuesday ruled in two cases concerning claims for compensation from two men.

The two men are Victor Nealon, a 64-year-old Irish national, and Briton Sam Hallam.

Nealon was convicted in 1997 of attempted rape and given a sentence of life imprisonment with a minimum term of seven years. His conviction was quashed by the UK Court of Appeal on 17 May 2012. 

Hallam was convicted in 2004 of murder, conspiracy to commit grievous bodily harm and violent disorder. His convictions were quashed in 2012 after new evidence came to light.

Both men subsequently applied for compensation for a miscarriage of justice.

They argued that requiring those who have been wrongly convicted to prove innocence beyond a reasonable doubt in order to achieve compensation reverses a fundamental principle of justice.

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While the European court rejected both mens’ claims for compensation, five judges dissented, drawing attention to the fact that most EU Member States provide for compensation after a miscarriage of justice. The court also said it was “not insensible to the potentially devastating impact of a wrongful conviction.”

In their decision dismissing the pair’s challenge, the panel of judges at Strasbourg ruled: “It could not be said that the refusal of compensation by the Justice Secretary imputed criminal guilt to the applicant by reflecting the opinion that he or she was guilty to the criminal standard of committing the criminal offence, thereby suggesting that the criminal proceedings should have been determined differently.”

Reacting, Hallam, from East London, said, “For 20 years, the whole of my young adult life, I have been fighting a murder case of which I am entirely innocent. Still today I have not received a single penny for the seven and half years I spent in prison.”

He added, “The brutal test for compensation introduced in 2014 needs to be abolished, it goes completely against what this country should stand for.”

In response to the judgment Nealon said: “For 17 years I fought a case of which I am entirely innocent. Over ten years later I have not received any compensation from the Government for the life I lost, nor the mental agony inflicted on me (from deaths of parents and loss of relationships). This is not justice, and I am appalled by the decision.”

Further comment came from Matt Foot, Co-Director, APPEAL, a leading UK-based charity that fights for victims of miscarriages of justice.

Foot said, “The brutal compensation scheme for miscarriages of justice cases is the aspect of our criminal justice system of which I am most ashamed.”

“We urgently need to find a mechanism to compensate those victims who have spent years in prison for crimes of which they are innocent, just as we need to compensate all the victims of the Post Office and infected blood scandals.”

The charity says the public response to these cases, and to the widely publicised Post Office or Horizon IT scandal in the UK, demonstrates the grave public concern reflected by the dissenting judges.

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