Statement on Sam Hallam & Victor Nealon

Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights dismisses application, but recognises devastating impact of wrongful conviction

Today, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights held that the test for compensation introduced in 2014 (Section 133(1ZA) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988) is compatible with Article 6 (2) of the European Convention of Human Rights.

The case was brought by Victor Nealon and Sam Hallam, who between them spent more than 24 years in prison for crimes they did not commit following which they were denied any form of compensation.

Mr Nealon and Mr Hallam argued through the appeal courts that once a conviction is overturned an individual should be presumed innocent. They said that requiring those who have been wrongly convicted to prove innocence beyond a reasonable doubt in order to achieve compensation reverses this fundamental principle of justice, and places a near impossible burden on the applicant for compensation.

Sam 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. The Metropolitan Police said: “It is a matter of deep regret that Sam Hallam lost his liberty due to what has subsequently been found to be an unsafe conviction”. He served seven years and seven months in prison for murder after being arrested at the age of just seventeen. His conviction was quashed on the basis of evidence that had not been disclosed to him at his trial.

The majority of the Grand Chamber appeared to recognise the United Kingdom has a moral obligation to change its position. The Grand Chamber was “not insensible to the potentially devastating impact of a wrongful conviction” but noted that its role was not to determine how the UK should alter its laws to reflect “the moral obligation they may owe to persons who have been wrongfully convicted” [para §182].

Importantly, five judges dissented, drawing attention to the fact that most European States provide for compensation after a miscarriage of justice. By contrast the test in the UK was “virtually insurmountable” with more than 93% of applicants to the scheme being denied compensation. It also noted the “highly undesirable attitude towards the presumption of innocence”.

In response to today’s judgment, Mr Hallam said:

 

“For twenty 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 introduced in 2014 needs to be abolished, it goes completely against what this country should stand for.”

 

Victor Nealon’s conviction for attempted rape 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, including not commissioning DNA tests which could have cleared him ten years earlier.

We call upon future government to accept the moral obligation society owes to people who, through no fault of their own, have been subject to a miscarriage of justice. The public response to these cases, and to the Post Office or Horizon IT scandal, demonstrates the grave public concern reflected by the dissenting judges. The astonishing position is that victims of the Post Office scandal could have been denied compensation under the statutory scheme. Future government must commit to changing the statutory scheme to make it fairer.

In response to the judgment Mr Nealon said:

“For seventeen 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 of the Court today.”

Marcia Willis Stewart KC (Hon), Partner of Birnberg Peirce said:

“Since the quashing of his conviction Sam Hallam has sought redress for years spent in custody, lost years. The passage of time has not diminished the need to right the wrong of those lost years of incarceration. Justice delayed is justice denied. Today the ECHR decision brings this litigation to an end. It cannot be right that in a just society there is no redress for years spent in custody. We will continue to bring pressure to bear on the government to amend the compensation scheme to enable Sam and others to obtain financial redress.”

Mark Newby, Partner, Jordans Solicitors LLP said:

“Today is a bitterly disappointing decision for our Client and all those who have been refused justice applying a skewed test for compensation. Notwithstanding the decision we call upon the new government to anxiously review the plight of our client together with the many other men and women who have suffered a miscarriage of justice ensuring they are given proper support applying a revised test that delivers fairness. After 17 years in prison simply giving someone a £46 travel warrant and dumping them at the train station cannot be right, the only humane approach is to compensate such persons for what they have lost without requiring them to jump through impossible hoops.”

Matt Foot, Co-Director, APPEAL, 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.”

Fiona Rutherford, Chief Executive of JUSTICE who intervened in the case, said:

“Compensation can’t undo the harm caused by wrongful conviction, but it’s perverse that the current test set for those exonerated – and who might have spent many years imprisoned  – is so high as to be almost impossible to meet.

 

Today’s judgment is disappointing. Scotland, Ireland, and almost all countries signed up to the ECHR, have schemes that enable miscarriage of justice victims to gain rightful recognition that they should never have been convicted. It’s time the government urgently overhaul the compensation regime. Those wrongfully convicted and imprisoned should receive the recompense they are entitled to, in an humane, fair and timely way.”

 

11 June 2024

 

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1 Comment

  1. Lynn-D on July 13, 2024 at 5:45 am

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