Irishman loses British court battle for miscarriage of justice compensation

Two men who spent years behind bars before their convictions were overturned have lost the latest round of their legal battle for ''miscarriage of justice'' compensation.

Sam Hallam, who was convicted of murder, and Dublin man Victor Nealon, who was found guilty of attempted rape, suffered a defeat at the British High Court last year.

Today, three Court of Appeal judges in London dismissed their human rights challenges.

They were both set free after appeal judges ruled that fresh evidence made their convictions unsafe, but each had applications for compensation rejected by the British Ministry of Justice (MoJ).

Mr Hallam's conviction was quashed in 2012. Former postman Mr Nealon, who was convicted in 1997 of the attempted rape of a woman in Redditch, Worcestershire, won his appeal in December 2013.

Mr Nealon, 54, was given a life sentence after his trial at Hereford Crown Court and served 17 years in jail - 10 more than the seven-year minimum term - after he persisted in asserting he was innocent.

Mr Hallam, now 28, from east London, served more than seven years after he was sentenced to life as a teenager following his conviction at the Old Bailey in 2005 of the murder of a trainee chef.

At the British High Court, they asked two judges to rule that UK law is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) because it wrongly restricts compensation in ''miscarriage of justice'' cases.

Lawyers argued on their behalf that the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which governs compensation payments, was amended in 2014 in a way that violated Article 6 (2) of the ECHR because it required a person seeking an award to prove they were innocent.

Applicants for compensation now have to satisfy the British Justice Secretary that "a new or newly-discovered fact shows beyond reasonable doubt" that they did not commit the offences for which they were jailed.

Lord Justice Burnett, announcing the High Court's decision last June, ruled that the law "does not require the applicant for compensation to prove his innocence".

He said: "It is the link between the new fact and the applicant's innocence of which the Secretary of State must be satisfied before he is required to pay compensation under the 1988 Act, not his innocence in a wider or general sense."

Mr Hallam and Mr Nealon challenged the High Court's findings at the Court of Appeal last month in proceedings before Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson, Brian Leveson and Lord Justice Hamblen.

The three judges were asked to rule that the lower court "erred in law" when reaching its decision, but on Monday they announced that both appeals were dismissed.

The judges also refused permission to appeal to the UK's highest court, but it is still open to the men to apply directly to the British Supreme Court in a bid to take their cases further.

The two men had asked the judges for a declaration that the statutory definition of "miscarriage of justice" which came into effect in 2014 is "incompatible" with human rights laws relating to the presumption of innocence.

The definition is that "there has been a miscarriage of justice in relation to a person convicted of a criminal offence in England and Wales ... if and only if the new or newly discovered fact shows beyond reasonable doubt that the person did not commit the offence".

Lord Dyson said Mr Hallam and Mr Nealon argued that this was incompatible "because it requires an applicant for compensation to prove his innocence and thereby necessarily call into question the correctness of the acquittal".

But rejecting their case, the judge said an applicant was "not required to prove his innocence generally".

He added: "The key issue for the purpose of establishing eligibility for compensation ... is the effect of the new or newly discovered fact which led to the conviction being quashed."

Lord Dyson said in a written ruling: "The Secretary of State is only required to look at whether the new or newly discovered fact (and nothing else) shows beyond reasonable doubt that the person did not commit the offence."

He pointed out: "The fact that the Secretary of State is not persuaded beyond reasonable doubt by a new or newly discovered fact that an applicant is innocent does not entail that the Secretary of State casts doubt on his innocence generally.

"He is merely saying that the applicant's innocence has not been proved by the new or newly discovered fact."

Innocence "was presumed in all cases where a person is applying for compensation" when a conviction had been quashed.

The criteria "do not cast doubt on the innocence of an applicant whose conviction has been quashed", he said.

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