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Lord Phillips extends compensation for miscarriages of justice

11 May 2011

The Supreme Court has extended the category of people entitled to compensation following a miscarriage of justice.

The court was split 5:4 on the issue, with Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, in the minority.

Lord Phillips, president of the Supreme Court, said limiting compensation to those who could prove that they were innocent beyond reasonable doubt would “deprive some defendants who are in fact innocent and who succeed in having their convictions quashed on the grounds of fresh evidence from obtaining compensation.

“It will exclude from entitlement to compensation those who no longer seem likely to be guilty, but whose innocence is not established beyond reasonable doubt.

“This is a heavy price to pay for ensuring that no guilty person is ever the recipient of compensation.”

Lord Phillips said a new test would provide a more “satisfactory approach” that accorded with the language of the statute, section 133 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, and was workable in practice.

He proposed the following test for a miscarriage which deserved compensation: “A new fact will show that a miscarriage of justice has occurred when it so undermines the evidence against the defendant that no conviction could possibly be based upon it.”

Lord Phillips said the new test “will not guarantee that all those who are entitled to compensation are in fact innocent.

“It will, however, ensure that when innocent defendants are convicted on evidence which is subsequently discredited, they are not precluded from obtaining compensation because they cannot prove their innocence beyond reasonable doubt.”

He dismissed an appeal by Andrew Adams, convicted of murder and released after 14 years in prison, on the grounds that he did not meet the new test. The other justices agreed.

However, Lord Phillips allowed appeals by two men from Northern Ireland, Eamonn MacDermot and Raymond McCartney, both convicted of murder by a judge without a jury in 1979.

Lord Hope, Lady Hale, Lord Kerr and Lord Clarke agreed with Lord Phillips, for their own reasons, that these appeals should be allowed. Lords Judge, Brown, Walker and Rodger dissented.

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