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Miscarriages of justice: how the UK is failing exonerees

admin - May 8, 2018 - miscarriages of justice

This guest post comes from Tariq Desai, Criminal Justice Lawyer at JUSTICE, an all-party law reform and human rights organisation working to strengthen the justice system – administrative, civil and criminal – in the United Kingdom. JUSTICE are part of the LEAP network. 


This week, JUSTICE intervened in the Supreme Court case, R (on the application of Nealon & Hallam) v Secretary of State for Justice. JUSTICE provided evidence of the inadequacy of the current statutory compensation regime, arguing that the current regime has reduced the redress for wrongful conviction to virtually nothing.

Victor Nealon and Sam Hallam were both imprisoned for crimes that they did not commit. After spending significant amounts of time in prison, they were released when new evidence demonstrated that their convictions were unsafe. However, neither of them have received compensation. This is because the statutory compensation regime found in s. 133 Criminal Justice Act 1998 requires an applicant to have had their conviction quashed through a new or newly discovered fact that shows ‘beyond reasonable’ doubt that they did not commit the crime. This is an incredibly high threshold, which in practice means only those with DNA or concrete alibi evidence can pass. This means that despite there being clear evidence that they did not commit the crime, no compensation will be forthcoming. Such a narrow test has contributed to there being only six successful compensation applications in the last six years.

Much of the focus on miscarriages of justice is on routing them out, making sure that innocent people our freed and that it doesn’t happen again. However, the aftermath of a miscarriage of justice can be incredibly difficult for an exoneree, during which they receive very little support.

In April 2018, JUSTICE launched its report Supporting Exonerees: Ensuring Accessible, Consistent and Continuing Support at White & Case LLP in London. The report highlights the inadequacy of the support that is offered to exonerees prior to and after release. No state body is responsible for their welfare when they are released and what support is available is ineffectual.

This report demonstrates how the criminal justice system fails to understand the issues facing exonerees: including practical assistance needed upon release, the negative impact of incarceration on mental health and the difficulties readjusting to everyday life. Exonerees do not receive the services and support needed to acclimatise and return to normal life upon release from prison. We note that some support services are available, but these are poorly-resourced, often do not address the complex range of problems faced by exonerees, and are largely available on an ad hoc basis. We recommend ambitious development of existing services that would provide accessible, consistent and continuing support for exonerees.

We also set out that measures for exonerees should go further than financial and non-financial support and include a public acknowledgement that a wrong has happened.

We make 14 recommendations for reform, including:

  • Better management of the transition from incarceration to release.
  • The need for specialist psychiatric care.
  • The setting up of a residential service to provide practical and welfare support to exonerees.
  • An independent body to determine whether applicants are eligible for compensation.
  • Automatic compensation for wrongful imprisonment, subject to certain exceptions.
  • An apology and explanation of the failure that leads to a quashed conviction and, where necessary, a public inquiry.

Read the report here.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71.

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