Saturday, 19 June 2010

Supreme Court to decide on compensation for miscarriages of justice

2 June 2010

A man who was wrongly convicted of murder and released after 14 years in prison has won permission for his compensation claim to be heard by the Supreme Court.

Daniel Machover, partner at Hickman and Rose, said the Supreme Court would have to decide what exactly was meant by the phrase ‘miscarriage of justice’ for the purposes of statutory compensation.

Machover is acting for Andrew Adams, who was convicted and jailed for life in 1993 for the murder of former science teacher Alfred ‘Jack’ Royal. Royal was gunned down on his doorstep in Gateshead.

The Court of Appeal quashed Adams’ conviction in 2007, on the grounds that evidence had been missed by his original defence team. However, the same court decided last year that he should not be awarded compensation.

Delivering the leading judgment in R (on the application of Adams) v Secretary of State for Justice [2009] EWCA Civ 1291, Lord Justice Dyson held that it could not be said in the case of Adams that errors by counsel had caused something to go “seriously wrong” with the trial process.

“These errors were committed by experienced and apparently competent counsel acting conscientiously in good faith in the best interests of their client,” he said.

“It cannot fairly be said that the errors showed that the appellant was deprived of effective representation.”

As a result, Dyson LJ concluded that there was not a “miscarriage of justice” according to Lord Bingham’s definition in R v Home Secretary ex parte Mullen [2004] UKHL 18. Lord Justices Waller and Lloyd agreed.

Machover said that the Court of Appeal’s approach meant that compensation would be paid for miscarriages of justice by the state in only one or two cases a year, where a victim could show beyond reasonable doubt that he was innocent.

“You must have been exonerated by new forensic evidence, especially DNA evidence, delivering a knock-out blow to show it could not have been you,” he said.

“Or the true perpetrator must have confessed, or the complainant felt guilty and retracts their evidence.”

Machover said the key issue was the meaning of ‘miscarriage of justice’ and whether it included cases where something went badly wrong even if the victim could not show beyond reasonable doubt that he was innocent.

He said that in the case of Adams the Court of Appeal accepted that, under section 133 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, there was “new or newly discovered” evidence.

At least three law firms are understood to have similar compensation claims to Adams, which have been stayed pending the Supreme Court judgment.

Machover added that since the ‘ex gratia’ scheme for miscarriages of justice had been abolished by the Labour government, the only other ways Adams could obtain compensation was by suing the police or the CPS for malicious prosecution or suing his original legal team for negligence.

The order granting permission to appeal to the Supreme Court was made by Lords Rodger, Brown and Clarke. The appeal will be heard early next year.

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