Category Archives: United Kingdom

‘Home and Away’: differential reporting on miscarriages of justice in the UK?

_40085152_justicefigure203Miscarriages of justice (as wrongful convictions are more commonly referred to in the UK) rarely feature in the national media in the UK. This has been noted for many years now. If a case is sufficiently high-profile or has some peculiarity (i.e. involves a footballer or other ‘celebrity’), then it may merit a short piece in a national newspaper. Most will only make a paragraph or two in a regional newspaper if lucky supporters can provoke the interest of a local journalist. The overwhelming majority get no media coverage at all. This is not because of a lack of miscarriages of justice (our Criminal Court of Appeal is as over-run with work as ever, as is our Criminal Cases Review Commission), but a perceived lack of public interest. Perhaps domestic miscarriages lack the ‘drama’ of an exoneration in the US (we lack the ridiculously lengthy sentences for a start). The contrast is becoming increasingly stark, with ‘Making a Murderer’ lawyers ‘on tour’ in the UK speaking to rapturous crowds, while campaigners for domestic cases struggle to be heard. In just one example: a leading national newspaper this week has a major splash on an exoneration in the US, that has a small ‘home’ angle that can be exploited:

“Innocent man jailed for 24 years after being framed over British tourist’s murder in New Orleans is freed by two lawyers who exposed a jaw-dropping fit-up that shames the US legal system.”

Yet look at the coverage of a shocking (but all too common) miscarriage of justice in the UK – a story in a local paper: Exclusive: Sheffield milkshake shop owner’s three-year nightmare in fight to clear name over child sex attack

While clearly anecdotal, yet again today I have had to correct a law student who is interested in studing miscarriages of justice after watching US TV shows, who thought that they were an “American thing”. Students seem astonished when I point out that we have our own miscarriages of justice they could study. Perhaps the media could play their part in actually reporting on ‘home’ miscarriages of justice rather than just seeking those instances we can revel in shaming the US for ‘away’ cases.

Serious concerns about forensic science standards in the UK.

banner_scientist2In England and Wales, since the closure of the Forensic Science Service, forensic testing has been undertaken by a number of private companies. At the time of the privatisation, many warned that introducing a profit-motive into forensic science could have perverse outcomes. Many were concerned about falling standards and ‘bargain basement’ outfits doing shoddy work. Some of these concerns look to have been justified, with news this week that two men have been arrested after the discovery that they have manipulated alcohol/ drug test results used in both the criminal and family courts. The media have reported that almost 500 cases are being reviewed to see if an injustice has occurred. Already, there is one reported instance of a case being dropped because the results of the drug tests cannot be relied upon (First case dropped since forensic science blunders as CPS says it cannot proceed)

While the news of the arrests and falsified rest results have received wide coverage, (see here…. and here… and here…) it comes hot on the heels of a critical report by the Forensic Regulator that iterates that “standards may be at significant risk” (see here. ). The 2016 Annual Report details major failings in the previous year, and warns of the financial pressures that are putting forensic quality at risk, with many police forces still not fully signed-up to minimum standards. Read the report here….    The press release stated that: A lack of funding to improve forensic science is jeopardising the integrity of the criminal justice system. Read the press release here….

With financial pressures on companies, and pressures on workers within those companies to ‘perform’, the risks to forensic science integrity in the UK is obvious. However, it is not limited to the UK and also encompasses all forensic evidence – as concerns grow about the quality of digital forensics in the US as just one example: Bargain Basement Digital Forensics Examiners – Too Good to be True.

The lesson – one that those dealing with wrongful convictions have known for years – is that forensic science cannot be done ‘on the cheap’, and attempting to do so puts the entire legal system in jeopardy.

Ireland’s Ministry for Justice compensates man for wrongful conviction

connemaraMichael Hannon was accused of sexual assault by a 10 year old neighbour, in 1997. He was convicted and yet in 2006, his accuser came forward and retracted her statement, confessing that she had made a false allegation. Despite this, the Ministry of Justice ‘lost’ Hannon’s case files. It was not until 2009 that he was able to have his case certified as a miscarriage of justice. The Ministry and Hannon have now reached an out-of-court settlement after his claim for compensation went to the High Court. The case is a stark example of what can happen when police pursue allegations in spite of a total lack of evidence. This failure was compounded by incompetence on behalf of the prosecutors and Ministry of Justice staff who not only ‘lost’ his file for 15 months, but continued to protest against his case being declared a miscarriage of justice.

Mr Hannon has thanked his family and supporters but spoke of the need for an inquiry into the actions of the Ministry, and why the retraction by the complainant was not forwarded to him or his legal team. He said that it is ‘impossible to summarise the impact of a wrongful conviction upon a person.”

Read more here:

Two Decades On…. Closure for Connemarra Neighbour falsely convicted of child sex abuse

 

Prosecution service pay damages to wrongfully convicted man after disclosure failure.

conrad-jonesA man who spent six years in prison has successfully sued the England and Wales Crown Prosecution Service after their failure to disclose police surveillance tapes that proved his innocence. Wrongly convicted of perverting the course of justice in 2007 (after 2 failed trials), Conrad Jones was freed in 2014 when he won an appeal. He was on trial for bribing a witness in a murder trial, but police surveillance tapes proved he could not have been present. While the Judge at his appeal called the failure to disclose the exculpatory evidence ‘lamentable’, Jones’s solicitor said: “It is clear that the CPS and prosecution counsel had in their possession, both while my client remained on remand in prison awaiting trial and at the time of my client’s trial, surveillance material which showed he could not realistically have met with and bribed [the witness] not to give evidence. They knew it was relevant, they knew it undermined the prosecution case and strengthened Mr Jones’s defence and they knew that the law required them to disclose it. To discover years after the event that the CPS, on the advice of highly experienced lawyers, has knowingly and repeatedly failed to comply with the criminal law on disclosure is shocking, and raises very serious questions which go right to the heart of public confidence in the criminal justice system and the legal profession.”

It is interesting however to note that Jones had to sue the CPS for their failure through the civil courts for ‘damages’, rather than attempt to win ‘compensation’ through the Government scheme that compensates miscarriage of justice victims. This scheme has proven almost impossible to win any compensation through – and the settlement reached – of over £100,000 – is far more than he would have been eligible for through the compensation scheme. While the CPS have remained silent and said the terms of the settlement are ‘confidential’, they have not admitted liability despite paying the damages. Could this perhaps be an interesting route for victims of miscarriages of justice who can pinpoint failures on the part of the CPS that saw them wrongly convicted? Could victims try suing the police? With the compensation scheme set up to prevent almost all claims succeeding, perhaps we should pursue this alternative route?

Read more here:

CPS to pay six-figure sum to man over wrongful conviction

CPS pays ‘significant sum’ over ‘lamentable’ failures to disclose critical evidence

 

 

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Yet more woeful compensation news from the UK

In the past week, there have been two painful reminders that it is now almost impossible for people who have suffered a miscarriage of justice in the UK to obtain compensation. In two separate cases, in England and in Northern Ireland, men who have served years in prison before having their convictions overturned have been refused compensation by the State. These men have now had these decisions confirmed by the high courts.

In Northern Ireland Gerard Magee lost an appeal against being denied compensation. Convicted of involvement with an IRA bombing in 1988 and sentenced to 20 years, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in 2000 that his right to a fair trial had been breached after his admissions to police were made without seeing a solicitor for two days. The Northern Ireland courts subsequently overturned his conviction (he had served 10 years before being released under the Good Friday agreement). The courts have now ruled that because there were no ‘new facts’ in the case, his case does not merit compensation. To add insult to injury, he is now facing paying the legal costs of the Dept of Justice as well as his own. During the ruling Mr Justice Deeny said: “It seems clear to us that the Department of Justice was correct in arriving at the conclusion that there was no new or newly discovered fact… The Department was therefore entitled to refuse the application for compensation without going on to consider whether, in any event, there could be said to be a miscarriage of justice where the defendant had subsequently admitted to the truth of the statements which he had made admitting the offences.” Read more here…. Man wrongly jailed for IRA bombing loses appeal over compensation

Meanwhile, in England and Wales, Victor Nealon and Sam Hallam (read more about their cases here…. and here….  and in various earlier posts regarding UK compensation on these blog pages)  have lost their appeal against the Ministry of Justice decision to not award them compensation for the years they spent behind bars for crimes they did not commit. After the passing of an Act in 2014, exonerees in the UK now essentially have to prove their complete innocence in order to be compensated. Simply having their conviction ruled ‘unsafe’ and overturned by the appeal courts is insufficient. For an insight into the case and the shocking state of the law in this area, read a post on the appeal and the law on compensation by Victor Nealon’s solicitor Mark Newby here… ‘Without recompense for the wrongfully convicted, the integrity of our justice system is in question’

One can only hope that their fight will now continue to the Supreme Court, who may be persuaded that the laws governing compensation for miscarriages of justice in the UK not only breaches our human rights obligations, but brings shame upon our justice system internationally.

 

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UK Forensic Science in crisis?

UnknownComing amidst growing concerns and warnings from scientists about the state of  forensic science in the UK, is the announcement that Dr Gill Tully – the UK’s Forensic Regulator, has ordered a review of a series of sexual assault cases: “to find out whether there are occasional examples of poor practice or whether there are more systematic issues.” The review was prompted by cases where “the scientific opportunities don’t appear to have been maximised”. These included examples where scientific analysis was not carried out at all. Read more here: Forensic review of sexual assault cases ordered after poor practice concerns

Many forensic scientists are now speaking out about the severe budget cuts which have led to a near decimation of the UK ‘market’ in forensic services. Police are spending a fraction of what they used to on forensic science during investigations. Tiernan Coyle – a fibre specialist who has worked on many cold cases and wrongful convictions over the years, has warned of the dire state of forensic science in the UK: Forensics in crisis: Why are vital skills being allowed to die out?  Coyle has now been forced to close his specialist fibre analysis company… Contact Traces leaves the forensic market.

Prof Peter Gill, one of the worlds leading DNA specialists – who left the UK some years ago because of the dire state of forensic science, and is now warning about the inevitability of miscarriages of justice: “With the Birmingham Six and Judith Ward [the M62 bomber whose conviction was quashed], there was very poor reporting by forensic science,” he said. “The problem is we’re in danger of revisiting that era.”

Just how long before there is a miscarriage of justice – or a wrongful conviction that depends upon a crucial bit of forensic evidence that can no longer be analysed?

Friday’s Quick Clicks…

Court refuses to award compensation to Phil Webster, UK man wrongfully convicted of rape…

Mark Webster’s 2012 conviction for abduction has been overturned by a Virginia court due to new witness statements…

Darren Corbridge and John Naylor, two UK men wrongfully convicted of attacking police officers, will receive five figure sum  in compensation settlement …

UK’s restrictive compensation scheme for exonerees upheld by High Court

In a long running issue over exoneree compensation in the UK – or the lack of it – that I have blogged on previously (here…,here… and here)  Sam Hallam and Victor Nealon, who spent 24 years in prison between them, have now lost their argument that UK law wrongly restricts compensation in miscarriage of justice cases. Hallam and Nealon’s solicitors had judicially reviewed the government decision to not compensate them for the years they spent imprisoned when innocent.untitled

The Secretary of State for Justice denied Nealon compensation for his years in jail, on the grounds that the Court of Appeal’s verdict  – which said that  “the fresh evidence has not ‘demolished’ the prosecution case” – meant that he was not a victim of a miscarriage of justice. In Hallam’s case – his appeal judgement partially laid the blame for his wrongful conviction at his door as the phone evidence that exonerated him 7 years after his conviction had been in his possession.

On Monday, Nealon and Hallam lost their bid to persuade British judges to accept that denying compensation broke the European Convention on Human Rights. The case is the first legal challenge to be heard to the decision to narrow eligibility grounds for compensation, which effectively requires people to prove that they did not commit the crime.

Wrongfully jailed men lose high court actions in battle for compensation

Irish man fails in compensation bid against British government

Victor Nealon falsely imprisoned for 17 years denied compensation

 

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Irish Innocence Project Confirms Pardon

From the Irish Times:

Almost 75 years after Harry Gleeson was hanged for murder, Minister Frances Fitzgerald has officially announced the Government’s decision to grant a posthumous pardon.

The Government has determined the conviction was unsafe and will advise the President to exercise his right of pardon under Article 13.6 of the Constitution.

In February 1941, Mr Gleeson was convicted of murdering mother of seven Mary McCarthy, who died of gunshot wounds to the face.

He had found her body lying in a field on his uncle’s farm in New Inn, Co Tipperary the year before.

He was sentenced to death and was executed in Mountjoy Prison in April 1941.

The Attorney General directed an independent review of the case after a submission from the Irish Innocence Project and the Justice for Harry Gleeson Group.

Barrister Shane Murphy SC, who reviewed the case, concluded there were deficiencies in the conviction rendering it unsafe. In his opinion, the conviction was based on unconvincing circumstantial evidence.

“The Government deeply regrets that a man was convicted and executed in circumstances now found to be unsafe. All that can be done now by way of remedy is to clear his name of the conviction, which this pardon will do, in the hope that this will be a proper tribute to his memory,” said a statement from the Department of Justice.

“Equally the Government regrets that this decision leaves unresolved the brutal murder of Ms Mary McCarthy, whose children were deprived of their mother in terrible circumstances.”

The Government expressed sympathy with both families.

“They’ve waited a long time,” said David Langwallner, director of the Irish Innocence Project, an organisation that provides free legal services to people wrongfully convicted of crimes.

The project submitted its case for a posthumous pardon, which included new evidence, to the Department of Justice in 2013.

Langwallner said the pardon is conclusive acknowledgement that, not only was the evidence insufficient, but that Mr Gleeson was innocent.

Grand-nephew Kevin Gleeson said it was an emotional day for his family.

“It’s great to see that, once and for all, the good name of Harry Gleeson has finally been restored. His innocence is no longer an issue and can never be questioned again.

“It’s been a burden and a shadow over our family for the last 74 years. The announcement today goes somewhat to remove that burden and shadow off us.”

Bernadette Gorman, whose father Billy lived and worked with Mr Gleeson, said of the trial: “[My father] was a crucial witness, and he was silenced … He never really got over it.”

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