ECHR backs British Government over refusing compensation to miscarriage of justice victims

Sam Hallam
Sam Hallam served seven years and seven months before his murder conviction was quashed - Victoria Jones/PA

The European Court of Human Rights has backed the Government’s decision to refuse compensation for victims of miscarriages of justice.

Judges rejected claims that the Government’s refusal to pay out compensation breached the human rights of two men who were wrongly convicted and subsequently freed from jail by the Court of Appeal.

The case was brought by two men, one accused of attempted rape and a second charged with murder, who had served a combined total of more than 24 years in jail before being cleared of their offences.

The Government argued that the law only allowed payouts if they could show “beyond reasonable doubt” that they were innocent and had not committed the crimes for which they had been convicted.

But the men argued there had been a breach of their human rights under article six of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) which says that “everyone charged with a  criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law”.

The Ministry of Justice maintained that the evidence that cleared the two men of their crimes was not sufficient to show they were “fully innocent” and refused to grant them compensation.

Victor Nealon
Victor Nealon was convicted of attempted rape in 1996 and served more than 17 years before he was released when new evidence came to light - Dave Evitts/SWNS

In its judgment, the court ruled by a majority of 12 to five that there had been no violation of the ECHR.

“Finding that it could not be shown beyond reasonable doubt that an applicant had not committed an offence – by reference to a new or newly discovered fact or otherwise – was not tantamount to finding that he or she had committed the offence,” it said.

“Therefore, it could not be said that the refusal of compensation by the Justice Secretary attributed criminal guilt to the applicants. The Court concluded that the refusal of the applicants’ claims for compensation under section 133(1ZA) of the 1988 [Criminal Justice] Act had not breached the presumption of innocence.”

Sam Hallam was 17 when he was found guilty of the murder of Essayas Kassahun, 21, who died after being attacked by a group of youths on the St Luke’s estate in Clerkenwell, London, in October 2004.

He served seven years and seven months before his convictions were quashed in 2012. The Court of Appeal found there was scope for mistaken identity and that his alibi was faulty recollection rather than a lie.

Supporters included Ray Winstone

He has always insisted he was never at the scene and his family and friends waged a high-profile campaign insisting he is innocent, with supporters including the actor Ray Winstone.

Victor Nealon was convicted of attempted rape in 1996 and served 17 years three months before his conviction was quashed. Further forensic analysis of the victim’s clothes found evidence of DNA belonging to an unknown male.

However, neither were declared “fully innocent” by the Ministry of Justice {MoJ). Nealon was told by the MoJ that the DNA from the unknown male might have had nothing to do with the attack on the victim. Hallam was told that the fresh evidence in his case did not establish positively that he was not at the murder scene.

The judgment means there are no further legal avenues for the pair to seek to overturn the MoJ’s decision.

The ruling comes amid heightened concerns over the plight of those cleared in miscarriages of justice following the case of Andrew Malkinson, who served 17 years in jail for a rape he did not commit. He has not yet received a penny in compensation for his wrongful conviction.

Declared innocent by the Court of Appeal in July 2023, his supporters say he is now reliant on food banks.