Victims of serious miscarriages of justice will find it harder than ever to receive compensation from the government following of a key test case. Lawyers claim that those wrongly convicted may now only receive compensation should someone else be convicted of the crime of which they were wrongly accused.
The recent case relates to Victor Nealon, aged 53, who was convicted of attempted rape in Worcestershire in 1996. He served 17 years, 10 years more than the recommended tariff, as he continued to protest his innocence during his incarceration. In December 2013 his conviction was quashed after fresh DNA evidence, taken from the blouse and underwear of the victim, pointed to “an unknown male” being responsible for the crime. However, Nealon has been told that he is not entitled to receive any compensation despite the fact that others wrongly convicted in the past and who served similar lengthy custodial sentences, have been paid hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Innocence to be Proved
The Ministry of Justice is declining to compensate him on the grounds that his innocence has to be proved “beyond reasonable doubt”. An initial appeal against the decision through a judicial review was unsuccessful, so now Nealon’s legal team is seeking a fresh hearing to challenge the refusal. Mark Newby, his lawyer, commented:
“The justice department are being completely resistant to offering any compensation.”
“They are making it virtually impossible for anyone to be compensated unless someone else is convicted of the crime. The Criminal Cases Review Commission have apologised to us for the delay in taking on his case in the first place. It seems that everyone is very sorry but no one wants to compensate him.”
An Ministry of Justice spokesperson said:
“There is no automatic entitlement to compensation but every application is considered on its merits. It would be inappropriate to comment on the details of any individual’s case.”
Nealon said he was determined to pursue the action for compensation as his life was ruined by the conviction. He was made homeless and had only a £46 discharge grant to survive off when released from prison.
Applications for compensation following the quashing of convictions are currently considered under the Criminal Justice Act of 1988 and the justice secretary is ultimately responsible for deciding whether compensation is payable. Since 2008, payments have been capped at £1million in respect of cases involving detention of 10 years or more, and £500,000 in all other cases. An independent assessor decides on the exact amount payable.
In 2014, the government introduced new legislation providing, for the first time, a statutory definition of what constitutes a miscarriage of justice for the purposes of determining eligibility for compensation. This definition now means that compensation is only paid where the new fact which led to the quashing of an applicant’s conviction shows beyond reasonable doubt that they did not commit the offence.