By Charlie Kimber
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Over 90 percent of wrongly convicted receive no compensation

Victor Nealon and Sam Hallam spent more than 24 years in prison for crimes they did not commit—but were denied compensation
Issue 2809
Sam Hallam with his mother Wendy Cohen illustrating an article about compensation for wrongly convicted people

Sam Hallam, who lost his claim for compensation after being wrongly convicted, with his mother Wendy Cohen outside the Supreme Court in central London when he began his legal battle (Picture: Alamy)

If the courts wrongly convicted you of a crime but you fought for justice and eventually won freedom, you might expect to be given compensation. Think again.

A shocking judgement on Tuesday highlighted that 93 percent of those who apply for compensation in such circumstances don’t receive it. Even when the system has to admit it has failed, it continues to act brutally towards its victims and to sneer at their innocence.

Victor Nealon and Sam Hallam took their case to the European Court of Human Rights. Between them, they spent more than 24 years in prison for crimes they did not commit. After that they were denied any form of compensation.

The British government argued that the law only allowed payouts if they could show “beyond reasonable doubt” that they were innocent and had not committed the crimes. The Ministry of Justice maintained that the evidence that cleared the two men was not sufficient to show they were “fully innocent” and refused to grant them compensation.

But Nealon and Hallam argued there had been a breach of their human rights under the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR). This says that “everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law”.

The court said it would not seek to intervene to change the present situation.

In response to the judgment, Hallam 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. The brutal test for compensation needs to be abolished.”

A previous—slightly more liberal—scheme, which allowed more payouts, was arbitrarily abolished by Labour home secretary Charles Clarke in the 2000s. The Tories then toughened the requirements for compensation.

Hallam’s conviction for murder was quashed at the Court of Appeal on 17 May 2012. The previous day the prosecution declared they did not oppose the appeal.

Nealon’s conviction was quashed at the Court of Appeal on 16 December 2013. He spent 17 years in prison. In May 2014 the Criminal Cases Review Commission apologised to Nealon for failing to investigate his case properly. This included not commissioning DNA tests which could have cleared him ten years earlier.

Nealon said that more than a decade after he was freed “I have not received any compensation from the government for the life I lost, nor the mental agony inflicted on me”. “This is not justice, and I am appalled by the decision of the court,” he said.

Over the last 20 years there has been an average of 21 quashed convictions a year and in the last five years almost 200 victims of wrongful convictions have applied to the Ministry of Justice for compensation. However, the number of successful compensation claims has “plummeted”, law reform group Justice reports.

Matt Foot is co-director of Appeal, a charity and law practice dedicated to challenging wrongful convictions. He 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.”

He added that wrongfully convicted people needed “love and care”. “They’re left on the scrapheap with no one to look after them,” he explained. “They are damaged people, the experience lives with them forever.”


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