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News Round-Up Week Ending 6.3.15

(Posted on 06/03/15)


Miscarriages of Justice – Who Cares?

Such was Henry Blaxland’s title when he delivered the 27th Annual Essex Law Lecture this week, hosted by the University of Essex and supported by the Suffolk and North Essex Law Society.

Henry Blaxland QC, of Garden Court Chambers, has been instructed in some of the most celebrated miscarriage of justice cases of the last 20 years, including Sam Hallam, Suzanne Holdsworth, the Carl Bridgewater murder case, Derek Bentley, James Hanratty and the M25 Three.

Mr Blaxland cited the cases of five victims of miscarriage of justice who have been denied compensation: Lorraine Allen, Barry George, Suzanne Holdsworth, Sam Hallam and Victor Nealon.

“If it is said that you can judge how civilised a country is by its prisons, what about those who should never have been there?” he asked. “Should we not judge a civilised society by how it makes amends for its errors?”

In the three years before the then Home Secretary Charles Clarke brought the discretionary compensation scheme to an end, 106 victims of miscarriage of justice were awarded compensation. The total for the next five years was 20.

“Who cares?” Blaxland asked again. “Judging by the figures, not the State, whichever Government is in office.”

“I would argue that disenchantment with the CCRC is part of the bigger picture of erosion of confidence in the criminal justice system,” he continued. “One of the principal reasons for miscarriages of justice has been non-disclosure by the Prosecution of evidence.”

Referring to the Supreme Court’s decision last year not to force Suffolk Constabulary to disclose evidence which might lead to a successful appeal for Kevin Nunn, Blaxland asked:

“How does the wrongly convicted appellant progress unless authorities disclose?”

He described how Suzanne Holdsworth spoke powerfully at a 2013 meeting in the House of Lords, explaining how the worst thing for her was that no one had said they were sorry. Holdsworth’s case is particularly poignant in that not only was she wrongly convicted, but there was no crime.

Taking questions after his address, Blaxland was asked whether miscarriage victims should be supported in other ways as well as financially. In agreement, he described how Michael Hickey, wrongly convicted of the murder of Carl Bridgewater, was released with no shoes and no support.

Henry Blaxland emphasised that the money is symbolic of the State saying sorry, and that psychological and social care should be included in any compensation payment.

Petition for Perverse Acquittal

The man who fatally stabbed Barry McLean in 2011 was acquitted the following year. Now Alan McLean, the victim’s father, has lodged a petition at the Scottish Parliament, calling for judges to have the power to revoke a jury’s decision if it should be “irrational, unsupported or unbelievable”.

“In the trial regarding the death of our son, the jury failed to identify that murder or even culpable homicide had been committed and returned with an acquittal which allowed the accused to walk free from the High Court,” Mr McLean’s petition states. “The current system failed and allowed two charges to be dissolved without any safety precautions being in place.

“The judge operates on the basis of a ‘reasonable doubt’ about the jury’s verdict, the perverse acquittal provides a safety net for the judge, although the judge’s word is final on the law and the jury’s word is final on the facts. This process would only be used by the judge when he/she thinks that the verdict is not just simply wrong, but actually perverse and has the power to intervene and forward the case to the High Court of Judiciary.

“Sometimes the jury do not fully assess the information provided over the course of the trial, or there may be too much information which may cause confusion to jury members and lead to the wrong verdict being delivered to the court.”