There can be no doubt that Sam Hallam, whose seven-year-old conviction for murder was quashed by the Court of Appeal after a CCRC referral in May 2012, has suffered greatly from that miscarriage of justice. I was in the Court of Appeal when his conviction was quashed. I heard the evidence presented by his barrister, Henry Blaxland QC, and while there was no one piece of evidence that could absolutely prove him to be innocent, I – as others - was left in no doubt about his innocence. But the Court is not required to find appellants to be innocent. It need only be satisfied that the conviction is unsafe, and it was, on that day, satisfied that Hallam’s conviction was indeed unsafe. He was freed from the Court, still a very young man but one whose life had been turned upside down. I had presumed that fairly soon he would receive financial compensation to help him to rebuild his life. I was wrong.
Compensating those whom the state has wrongfully convicted and imprisoned is an obligation of the state (under Article 14 (6) of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights). However, in the UK, the last decade has seen the gradual erosion of the state’s commitment to compensate the wrongfully convicted and the emergence of what is effectively a ‘two tier’ standard for exoneration where only those few who can prove that they are innocent will be compensated. Proving innocence – as opposed to the unsafety of a conviction - is not only incredibly difficult but it is not what the criminal and appeal process is supposed to do. In a recently published book edited by Hunter et al, examining The Integrity of Criminal Process, I write about the perils of the innocence discourse in helping to create an approach to compensation that has left many others, like Sam Hallam, without compensation.
The Court of Appeal’s attempts to distinguish between ‘deserving’ and ‘underserving’ appellants – between those who could prove themselves innocent and those who could not, as established in the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Adams and enforced in the more recent case of Allen – are odious and flawed. They have left those who cannot prove factual innocence under a cloud of suspicion, and deprived them of compensation for the harms inflicted by the state. Hence, others who have recently had their convictions quashed, following a referral by the CCRC - such as Victor Nealon - have been denied compensation despite overwhelming evidence of their innocence.
In 2015, a judicial review of the government’s denial of compensation in the cases of Hallam and Nealon- the first challenges to be brought against the narrowing of eligibility for an award - did not find it to be unlawful as the new evidence that persuaded the Court of Appeal to quash their convictions was not considered to prove beyond reasonable doubt that they did not commit the offences. Compensation lawyers I have interviewed believe that most cases will now fail to meet the test for compensation. Those who the Court has found to be wrongfully convicted are left with a cloud of suspicion hanging over their heads and with little or no financial or other support. Despite the manifold harms caused to these victims, in most cases the state will now not make amends.