Author Archives: Carole McCartney

Is ‘Innocence’ work over in the UK?

For some time, the news emanating from the UK has been getting worse with regard to the potential for miscarriages of justice, with law reforms diminishing legal protections for suspects and the almost total withdrawal of legal aid for the vast majority (nevermind the current moral panic of historic child sexual abuse which is swelling the prison population). This also comes at a time when changes to the rules on who can receive compensation for miscarriages of justice have also been ‘tightened’ to the point where barely anyone will qualify. I have blogged about many of the bad news stories coming out of the UK – including forensic science mishaps and police corruption seemingly continuing unabated regardless of new regulators or complaints bodies.Justice statue

Despite what one could view as the growing IMPORTANCE therefore of ‘innocence’ work in the UK, it looks as if things may be heading in the opposite direction. Following years of expansion with Innocence Projects being set up in universities across the country, it appears that these are now being encouraged to close. There are a host of reasons why Innocence Projects in the UK may be under threat (not least their position within univerisities whose priorites narrow ever further every day toward simply profit-making and rising up league tables.) They do not operate as a mirror to those in the US and internationally, largely because of the existence of the Criminal Cases Review Commission. However, their work is still invaluable. When I was Director of the University of Leeds Innocence Project, we received hundreds of letters (which still arrive weekly if not daily), reviewed dozens of cases, and assisted many prisoners. It also educated many students in the causes of, and remedies for, miscarriages of justice.  It gave many law students a passion for criminal legal aid work – where there is no money to be made and certainly no glory.

So – to read the announcement on the INUK website is all the more shocking. (see here… INUK – New Beginnings ). Where innocence work in the UK needs innovation, inspiration and support, it is being told that the day has come to pack our bags and go home. My thoughts are not only with those of us (staff and students alike) who have worked many years to get innocence taken seriously again in the UK, but those prisoners now who will be back at square one, with nowhere to turn yet again. How an ‘innocence network’ can survive, nevermind have any impact, with only one member, will remain to be seen.

UK Supreme Court Rule on Access to Evidence Post-Appeal

400px-uk_supreme_court_badgeThe Supreme Court of England and Wales has today ruled in the case of Kevin Nunn, an important ruling concerning the right of a convicted prisoner to access evidence in his case after he has been tried, and lost an appeal. Nunn had applied to the CCRC, claiming to be innocent of the murder of his girlfriend in 2005. Nunn is serving a life sentence for the murder. The CCRC denied a request to DNA test fluids found on the victim’s body. Nunn then applied through the Courts to gain access to the evidence in his case to have it re-tested (at his own expense). The Supreme Court this morning were ruling on whether he had the right to demand this evidence from the police and Crown. The full ruling (of just over 9 minutes) can be watched on YouTube here…. There has been some reporting of this morning’s judgement here…

Supreme Court rejects Kevin Nunn’s evidence release plea

Kevin Nunn: Lifer loses forensic tests fight eight years after murder conviction

There has also been a blog post, expressing unease – particularly as it lays a heavy burden upon the CCRC, who have not been known in the past to always make the right decision with regard to the re-testing of evidence. see here….

Kevin Nunn Case – Supreme Court application dismissed

I have jotted down a very quick summary of the main points of the unanimous judgement (which was mercifully short).

This appeal concerns the extent of disclosure duty AFTER the close of the case and any appeal. Police declined to keep going back to the evidence. Were they allowed to take this stance? Were they under the same duty of disclosure?

Unanimous decision that duty of disclosure does NOT continue unaltered after the trial. Up until end of trial he is presumed innocent. Once convicted he is no longer presumed innocent, but rather is proven guilty.

There remains a public interest in any flaw in his conviction being exposed. No-one ought to remain convicted if the conviction is unsafe. BUT also an important public interest in the finality of the process, for the family, witnesses etc. but also because of resources. There should not be indefinite re-investigations take resources away from new investigations.

There is a duty of disclosure but it is now more limited after trial. Guidelines issued by AG set out rules. Police and prosecutors must provide defendant with anything new if it casts doubt on the safety of the conviction. They must cooperate in further inquiry if the new inquiry has a real prospect of casting doubt. Not speculative reinvestigation simply because the defendant does not accept the decision of the jury.

In England and Wales, and Scotland, there is a specialist body charged with investigating suspected miscarriages of justice (CCRC). The existence of this body is another reason why there is no occasion for the Crown’s duty of disclosure to continue unaltered after conviction. If there is a proper inquiry on a topic where these is a real prospect that the conviction might be shown to be unsafe, the police and prosecution ought not to wait for an approach from the CCRC, but should cooperate in the inquiry.

If DNA retesting had a real prospect of showing that someone else committed the crime, then the continuing duty of disclosure would apply to it. on the facts of this case, it would not. It was known at the trial that the fluid could not have come from the defendant. Retesting in this case would not eliminate the defendant. A request for DNA testing should be dealt with according to the principles set out under the AG Guidelines.

 

Police lying: an endemic international problem?

It is starting to feel in the UK like ‘another day, another story of police lies’. In what feels like just a few months we have had media coverage of (to mention just a few) scandals where, for example, police have been caught falsifying reports of an altercation that they ‘witnessed’ when they were not present (see Plebgate scandal...). We have the ongoing revelations over police lies and their coercion of others to lie in the Hillsborough disaster cover-up (see Hillsborough inquiry...). It is suspected that these tactics were honed during the Miner’s Strike when striking miners were ‘fitted up’ (see Miners Strike….). Such tactics clearly have continued for years with many undercover police officers lies leading to convictions  (see undercover policing....) as well as the recent revelation that high profile victim Stephen Lawrence’s family were put under police surveillance during the inquiries into the police failures after Stephen’s murder (to try and discredit the family and their campaign for justice). This all comes on top of the almost run-of-the-mill stories of police ‘collusion’ with one another after fatal police shootings, with the introduction of body-worn cameras to enable the police to be ‘more transparent’ about fatal shootings. In fact, the introduction of police body-worn cameras has been posited as a boon for police as it will cut down on false allegations from the public. However, is it perhaps more likely that police body-worn cameras may serve to make the police more honest? Will they be able to lie with camera footage of the real altercation readily available?

0In Omagh, Northern Ireland, the introduction of CCTV cameras in the town has led to the uncovering of police lies leading to miscarriages of justice – with solicitors claiming that miscarriages may be ‘endemic': increasingly, CCTC footage is being shown to demonstrate that the police account of events is unreliable – even untrue (see story here…) Of course this has not been a good week either for police south of the border in Ireland, having been found to have been illicitly tape recording phone calls made to police stations (see here…). The other side of the world, in New Zealand, they are calling police lies and false evidence which have led to convictions as ‘failings’ and ‘sloppy police work’ (see here…Police failures led to wrongful conviction).

We have all known for years that there are ‘rotten apples’ and that wrongful convictions have often had police misrepresentations, if not outright corruption and lying, at their heart. However, the question must surely now be asked: is lying among the police an endemic international problem? If so, what can be done about it? These questions are already beginning to be murmured in corners of the UK, I think it is now time to get such questions out in the open. These are challenging times for the police, and if we are not to lose trust in them completely, I believe some hard questions must be asked and answers demanded.

 

UK Parliamentary debate on definition of a ‘miscarriage of justice’

There have been recent moves by the government in the UK, to severely restrict access to compensation for victims of miscarriages of justice. There has rightly, been (muted) outrage about the proposed requirement that the person claiming compensation had to prove their ‘innocence’ to be eligible for compensation. (see post here…)

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“A statutory definition was first attempted by the government as part of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, which originally stated a miscarriage of justice has occurred if new evidence must “show beyond reasonable doubt that the person was innocent of the offence”. When the bill progressed to the House of Lords, peers voted to defeat the government and change the wording so that the new evidence “shows conclusively that the evidence against the person at trial is so undermined that no conviction could possibly be based on it”.

The debate on the amendment and the definition of a ‘miscarriage of justice’ is available here….  For those of us involved in miscarriages of justice in the UK, this is essential viewing – and those interested in how authorities approach these issues. It is a long debate, but very very interesting! There has been limited reporting so far of the debate – but you can see one article here…

Wrongly jailed in UK may not get redress

Recent UK Exoneree talks about release and time in jail

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Recent DNA exoneree Victor Nealon, who spent 17 years in prison for an attempted rape he did not commit, has spoken of his time in prison and his release. He was given just 7 days notice of his appeal, then when freed from the appeal court, dropped at a local train station with 46 pounds (approx US$75) and nowhere to live. He is now considering suing the police for his arrest in order to gain some compensation to rebuild his life. Read the full interview here….

Postman who spent 17 years in prison after wrongful conviction for attempted rape says he is a ‘greater person’ for being victim of miscarriage of justice

Chinese saga of wrongful conviction finally ends after 16 years

A Chinese man who was sentenced to death and spent 12 years in prison for the rape and murder of a child was awarded US$160,000 compensation after his conviction was overturned, a court said. Li Huailiang stood trial seven times and was given three different sentences for the rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl in Pingdingshan in August 2001, Xinhua reported.

The farmer was condemned to death, then death with a two-year reprieve – a sentence normally commuted to life in prison – and after that, 15 years in jail.
Each time, the verdict was subsequently overturned “due to lack of evidence,’’ but he was not formally acquitted until April this year, when he was released from prison, Xinhua said. The Intermediate People’s Court in Pingdingshan, in central Henan, granted him 780,000 yuan (US$130,000) for the loss of “personal freedom’’ for 4,282 days spent in prison and a further 200,000 yuan for “psychological damage,’’ a statement posted on its website said.
Li had claimed 3.79 million yuan in total, the statement added.

Indian man freed by Delhi High Court after 14 years in prison

Bhupender Singh walked free on Friday after the Delhi High Court acquitted him of the 1999 murder of the wife of his former employer. Singh had been convicted in 2006, after fingerprints were found in his employers house. The fingerprint evidence was highly contentious, and never dealt with satisfactorily, but the High Court has now decided that Singh can go free, because there was not sufficient evidence for the conviction.

Read more here… HC acquits man of murder 14 yrs after he was jailed