UK Supreme Court decides refusal of compensation for miscarriage of justice not in breach of presumption of innocence

The UK Supreme Court has ruled that the presumption of innocence was not violated by the requirement that a person prove beyond reasonable doubt that they did not commit a criminal offence in order to be awarded compensation for miscarriage of justice. 

The appeals were brought by Sam Hallam and Victor Nealon, respectively incarcerated for 7 years for murder and 17 years for attempted rape. Both had their convictions quashed following the introduction of new evidence, however were refused compensation under section 133 of the Criminal Justice Act 1998.

The definition of a ‘miscarriage of justice’ in the 1998 Act allows compensation only in cases where new evidence or newly discovered evidence proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the individual did not commit the criminal offence. The appellants argued that this was in breach of the presumption of innocence contained in Article 6(2) of the European Convention of Human Rights.

The Supreme Court case of R (Adams) v Secretary of State for Justice previously adopted four categories of case as a framework for discussion on the term ‘miscarriage of justice’:

  1. “cases where the fresh evidence shows clearly that the defendant is innocent of the crime of which he was convicted;
  2.  cases where the fresh evidence so undermines the evidence against the defendant that no conviction could possibly be based upon it;
  3. cases where the fresh evidence renders the conviction unsafe in that, had it been available at the time of the trial, a reasonable jury might or might not have convicted the defendant; and
  4. cases where something has gone seriously wrong in the investigation of the offence or the conduct of the trial, resulting in the conviction of someone who should not have been convicted.”

In Adams, the court held that the term ‘miscarriage of justice’ covered all cases falling within category (1) and (2), and that that section 133 was compatible with Article 6(2). However, section 133 was subsequently amended to confine ‘miscarriage of justice’ to category (1) cases.

The Supreme Court therefore had to consider its own decision in Adams in light of the more recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Allen v United Kingdom where Article 6(2) was deemed to not have been violated in a category (3) case.

The majority held that even though Article 6 was engaged, the jurisprudence of the ECtHR was still evolving and it was not clear that an automatic violation would be found. The Court felt it was not appropriate to make a declaration of incompatibility in proceedings where the ECtHR would be unlikely to find a violation.

Click here for the judgement in R (on the application of Hallam) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for Justice (Respondent) and R (on the application of Nealon) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for Justice (Respondent).




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