Men who spent years in jail before convictions overturned lose compensation bid

Two men who served years behind bars before their convictions were overturned have lost a challenge at the European Court of Human Rights over their rejected compensation claims.

Sam Hallam, who was convicted of murder, and Victor Nealon, who was found guilty of attempted rape, previously brought legal action at the High Court over the Justice Secretary’s refusal to award them payouts.

Their compensation bids were rejected on the basis that it was not the case a “new or newly discovered fact shows beyond reasonable doubt that there has been a miscarriage of justice”.

After losing their challenges in the UK courts, including at the Supreme Court in 2019, the pair took their case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg, claiming the basis of the compensation refusal violated their right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty.

Sam Hallam had his conviction overturned at the Court of Appeal in 2012
Sam Hallam had his conviction overturned at the Court of Appeal in 2012 (Mike Hornby/PA)

But in a judgment on Tuesday, a panel of judges at the ECHR ruled with a majority of 12 to 5 that there had been no violation of Mr Hallam and Mr Nealon’s human rights.The pair’s lawyers argued they had suffered a breach of part of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which says everyone charged with a criminal offence should be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

However, lawyers for the UK government said the decision-maker “was required to decide on compensation in accordance with criteria which focused only on the specific effect of a new or newly discovered fact, rather than making a general assessment of guilt or innocence”.

In their decision dismissing the pair’s challenge, the panel of judges at Strasbourg ruled: “It could not be said that the refusal of compensation by the Justice Secretary imputed criminal guilt to the applicant by reflecting the opinion that he or she was guilty to the criminal standard of committing the criminal offence, thereby suggesting that the criminal proceedings should have been determined differently.

“To find in the negative that it could not be shown to the very high standard of proof of beyond reasonable doubt that an applicant did not commit an offence – by reference to a new or newly discovered fact or otherwise – is not tantamount to a positive finding that he or she did commit the offence.”

Mr Hallam, 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 for the murder of a trainee chef.

Mr Nealon, originally from Dublin, 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.

They were both set free after appeal judges ruled that fresh evidence made their convictions unsafe.

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.