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…)
“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…
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….
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.
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
Some great news from the UK: The Cardiff Law School Innocence Project (see here...), operating since 2005, has had a case referred back to the Court of Appeal in England and Wales, via the Criminal Cases Review Commission. See the official press release here: Commission refers the murder conviction of Dwaine George to the to the Court of Appeal
This case centres upon gunshot residue evidence, with the students at the project providing the CCRC with a new expert report. The Innocence Project Director, Julie Price, has been writing a blog about the challenges of running an Innocence Project and has written about the news here… Whilst it is indeed time for reflection, and this is not a ‘victory’ in that the appeal still has to be won, it is surely a good day for all of us in the UK who hoped that Innocence Projects in this country could make a difference.
I have previously written on this blog of the case of Susan May (see here… ) a brave lady who served 12 years in prison for the murder of her aunt, a murder she almost certainly did not commit. The sad news is that Susan May has not lived to see her conviction overturned, and she passed away last week. This is very sad news indeed and all wrongful conviction campaigners send their condolences to her family, friends, and her many many supporters. They will continue to fight her conviction.
read more here…
It is unusual to find criminal cases where large numbers of individuals are prepared to put their head above the parapet and state that they wholly believe in their innocence, regardless of having failed to date to overturn their conviction. Susan May’s case is one of the few. Convicted in 1993 of killing her 87 year old aunt, Susan served 12 years in prison before being released, the first life sentenced prisoner to be released while still proclaiming their innocence. Susan and her supporters however, have never given up trying to prove her innocence and have her murder conviction overturned. After all these years, there is still some hope. Internationally renowned fingerprint expert Arie Zeelenberg has writte a report that the ‘fingerprints in blood’ that were the main prosecution evidence were not, in fact, in blood at all, and were most likely left before the crime. Zeelenberg’s report is now with the CCRC, who are considering her case for referral again, back at the Court of Appeal. I sincerely hope that Susan May’s nightmare may soon be over. Read more here….
Strict new rules which will severely restrict the ability to obtain compensation for those who have had convictions overturned in the courts of England and Wales, look set to be passed. Earlier blog posts have detailed these changes (here….and here…) and now, former ‘Birmingham Six’ member, Billy Power, has spoken out. It is very rare for Mr Power to speak to the media, and his clear concerns about the new rules are prompting him, and others, to try and raise the issue, which seems to be entirely evading any political or public debate at all. Read Mr Power’s views here…
And more reaction here:
In light of this week’s decision at the Privy Council to overturn the murder conviction of New Zealand citizen Mark Lundy (see earlier post here….), ongoing debate surrounding the need for an independent review commission, along the lines of the UK’s Criminal Cases Review Commissions, has again been sparked. An earlier post here…. detailed how New Zealand authorities have long been contemplating the creation of a post-appeal review body, but they have so far resisted calls. See an interesting news piece here….
The Privy Council, sitting in London, has heard an appeal from Mark Lundy, a New Zealand resident serving a 20 year life sentence for murdering his wife and daughter. Mark Lundy has already served over 12 years in prison for the murder that he has always maintained he did not commit. The court has overturned the conviction and instructed the authorities in New Zealand to give Mr Lundy a new trial as soon as possible. Mr Lundy turned to the Privy Council after losing all appeal avenues in New Zealand. His appeal turns upon new ‘credible’ expert evidence that casts serious doubt over the original evidence used at trial, of stomach contents analysis, in order to determine the time of death of the victims. Mr Lundy has always had an alibi for when he claims the murders must have taken place, but the stomach content analysis put the deaths at a time when he could have committed the murders. If this evidence is proved flawed, then the whole case is thrown into doubt.
Read more here:
A retired New Zealand judge is arguing, 10 years after conducting an inquiry into miscarriages of justice in New Zealand, that the country is still in dire need of an independent body to investigate cases. This article outlines his conclusions then, and now, and the political concerns surrounding the establishment of such a body.
Read more here: A decade after he recommended New Zealand set up an independent commission to investigate claims of miscarriages of justice, Sir Thomas Thorp says the case is even stronger.
Following hot on the heels of previous posts about the rising awareness of wrongful convictions in China (see here… and here…. and here…), one of the leading forensic scientists in the country has now resigned in protest at the mishandling of evidence in criminal cases and a series of miscarriages of justice:
Wang Xuemei, the vice-president of the government-administered Chinese Forensic Medicine Association, said she could no longer be involved with an organisation that routinely serves up “ridiculous and false expert conclusions”
Defence solicitors have commented that the judiciary in China remain under the control of the Communist Party, and cannot be independent. Such comments, and a high profile resignation, should serve as clarion calls for reformers in China to work to bring about urgent reforms, and those in the international innocence movement must continue reaching out to our Chinese colleagues, to ensure that exonerations can be secured. Read more here…
Top Chinese forensic scientist quits over mishandled cases
Neil Heywood case: forensic scientist who raised doubts over conviction quits
As several of my blog posts have pointed out (here…. and here…. and here…), seeking compensation for a wrongful conviction in the UK is becoming nigh on impossible. Recent decisions to severely restrict compensation to only those who can demonstrate … Continue reading
China has recently been uncovering a raft of miscarriages of justice. The latest case sees a man released after spending 17 years in prison for the murder of his wife. This latest case, and the many that have recently hit the headlines have led to new guidelines from the ruling Communist Party, regarding prosecution policy and procedures. The guidelines reaffirm the presumption of innocence, and makes police and prosecutors ‘responsible’ for erroneous convictions – removing the previous ‘conviction target’ system of appraising performance simply through numbers of convictions. Read more here:
Yesterday, (August 15th 2013), the South African Parliament passed a bill, permitting the creation of a DNA database for South African police. The Criminal Law (Forensic Procedures) Amendment Bill, permits the taking of DNA from suspects during criminal investigations. While the cost of the DNA database and associated costs have been queried and concerns abound about whether the nation can afford the cost it is hoped that the human rights/ civil liberties concerns that have delayed the passing of the bill, have been addressed (e.g. see: Costing queried as DNA bill gets the nod).
There are high hopes that in South Africa, a country beset with a massive crime problem, with corruption rife within a highly dysfunctional justice system, will assist with criminal detection.
The DNA bill was supported by a very high profile (and successful) campaign by families of crime victims – you can see their work and campaign successes in their very professional website: ‘The DNA Project’.
As yet, even with the wide media coverage, there has been no mention of the use of DNA to exonerate innocent prisoners, of whom there would be expected to be many. The emphasis so far is all on the detection of offenders – although we know that the diligent use of DNA at an early stage in criminal investigations can be an effective tool in the prevention of wrongful convictions. However, it is hoped that with the establishment, and investment in a DNA database, South Africa may be able to take action on miscarriages of justice.
Further north, in Kenya, there has been a recent call to recognise the potential for miscarriages of justice, and take action to give greater rights of appeal and for the judicial system to acknowledge the possibility of miscarriages of justice, albeit the country is yet to publicise any: Kenya scarred by miscarriage of justice. Perhaps there is cause for cautious optimism that the ‘innocence movement’ may be spreading to the African continent.
New Zealand media are again focussing attention on the case of Teina Pora (read about his case here) , a man convicted 21 years ago of a rape and murder that he maintains he did not commit. Pora is now awaiting a pardon, having lost all his appeals and reached the end of the line. Many groups including politicians and police support his claims of innocence. However, the Premier of New Zealand (John Key) is rejecting calls for the government to set up an inquiry into the conviction. Instead, the case may (if refused a pardon) have to go to the Privy Council in London.
Read more here: Key, Collins shy off action on Pora case.
The case is attracting sufficient criticism that it is heightening calls for a criminal case review body specifically created to look at potential miscarriages of justice. Commentators are looking to renew previous calls in New Zealand to set up a review bodysimilar to the CCRC in the UK. With Pora’s case featuring so heavily in the news, the calls may get greater political and public support. Read more here: Criminal conviction review system long overdue
Meanwhile, similar calls are being made just across the Tasman Seain Tasmania (a state of Australia). They too are demanding new appeal rights for those alleging a miscarriage of justice. Similar to many of the States in Australia, once you have your appeal in Tasmania,
you cannot have a subsequent one, even if new evidence is produced. Civil Liberties Australia are now calling for greater appeal rights in Tasmania, a call that could similarly be made all across Australia. Read more here: Calls mount for retrial ruling
For the last seven years, Gustl Mollath, 56, has been held in a German asylum, after his wife accused him of assault. Mr Mollath had been trying to expose bank staff at Bavaria’s HypoVereinsbank (HVB), including his wife, who he accused of smuggling millions into Swiss accounts. Instead judges ruled that he was paranoid and committed him to psychiatric care for an indeterminate period. An audit of the bank has now proven his claims to be true, and he was released from involuntary detention. Read more here…
A veteran reporter in Western Australia, Bret Christian, has written a new book entitled ‘Presumed Guilty’. In promoting the book, he has given an interesting radio interview where he calls for the abolition of juries. He claims that having covered many miscarriages of justice, this may prevent further occurring. You can listen to the interview here….
More details on the book are available here:
The state of the forensic science ‘market’ in the UK has been the subject of much debate (see here… ) March 2012 saw the closure of the main provider of forensic services, the Forensic Science Service, by order of the government. It was deemed that with the service ‘losing’ (note ‘losing’ rather than ‘costing’) 2million pounds a year, it could no longer be sustained. Instead, forensic provision is now provided by private companies, individual consultants, or the police themselves. Now, the highly respected Science and Technology Select Committee of MPs has produced a report on the ‘fiasco’ of forensic science in the UK, roundly criticising the government move to close the FSS and warning of the dangers of miscarriages of justice. The provision of forensic science is now fragmented, dangerously unsupervised and the lack of research funding will only make matters worse in the years to come. The damning report contains no ‘news’ to those critics who predicted that the risks the government were taking with forensic science could end in disaster: the wrongful conviction of innocents as well as the diminishing ability to detect offenders. The government report has been widely reported in the press:
The full Forensic Science report can be found here…
Sweden, often looked upon as an aspirational model for criminal justice reformers, looks set to finally admit that it has wrongly convicted a mentally ill psychiatric patient of a series of murders after he confessed to the crimes. Bergwall, now 63 years, ’confessed’ to dozens of macabre killings (including cannibalising his victims) during the 1990s. He was convicted – with apparent ease – of at least 8 murders, despite little or no evidence beyond his detailed confessions. Now, the authorities are dropping all charges against him, after he retracted all of his confessions in late 2008. The Swedish Attorney General has admitted:
“That a person has been convicted of eight murders and later been declared innocent, that is unique in Swedish legal history…It has to be considered as a big failure for the justice system.”
The story is receiving international attention, being reported as far afield as China and Australia. Read more here….(Incl. a GQ magazine article)