Friday, May 13, 2011

Dozens of ex-prisoners in line for payouts after British Supreme Court ruling on compensation for miscarriages of justice

The man jailed for eight years then acquitted of the murder of Jill Dando is in line for a huge compensation payout following a court ruling last night. Barry George could be handed up to £500,000 after judges lowered the bar for what qualifies as a miscarriage of justice.

The Supreme Court ruled, by the narrowest of margins, that some acquitted in court are entitled to compensation even if they cannot prove their innocence beyond reasonable doubt. But judges warned the ruling would lead to some guilty people landing taxpayer-funded payouts.

Currently, anyone who overturns their conviction must have been ‘shown conclusively to be innocent’ before compensation is considered. Yesterday, five Supreme Court justices, including the President of the Court, Lord Phillips, ruled this definition was too narrow.

In future, applicants will have to show that the evidence on which they were cleared was so compelling that no conviction could ‘possibly be based upon it’. In his ruling, Lord Phillips said: ‘This 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 innocence beyond reasonable doubt.’

But in a dissenting judgement, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, argued it was right only the ‘truly innocent’ should be compensated. ‘In my judgement nothing less will do, and no alternative or half-way house or compromise solution consistent with this clear statutory provision is available,’ he said.

Lord Brown, who also disagreed with the majority ruling, declared himself ‘troubled’ by the outcome. He added that the Justice Secretary, who rules on compensation, may be forced to write cheques for people he knows to be guilty on the basis of inadmissible intercept or intelligence material.

The case was brought by two men convicted of murdering RUC officer Patrick McNulty in Derry in 1977. Raymond McCartney and Eamonn MacDermott, both from Northern Ireland, were freed after evidence suggested confessions had been beaten out of them. They are now in line for payouts worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Mr McCartney, who was also wrongly convicted of another murder a week later, spent 17 years in prison. He was the IRA’s officer commanding in the Maze and spent 53 days on hunger strike.

Mr George spent eight years behind bars after he was convicted in 2001. At his first trial, the prosecution case hinged on a speck of microscopic firearms residue that was later said to be worthless as evidence.

His conviction was quashed on appeal in 2007 and in 2008 he was acquitted following a retrial during which a series of women gave evidence about how he ‘terrified’ and ‘intimidated’ them in the street.

Police are still investigating the murder of Miss Dando, 37, who was shot in the head in April 1999.

A spokesman for Mr George’s solicitor Wells Burcombe said: ‘In light of the Supreme Court decision, he will now ask the Justice Minister to consider afresh his compensation application.’

Last night officials at the Ministry of Justice insisted the ruling would result in ‘very few’ cases. They welcomed the decision by the judges to unanimously reject an appeal by former aircraft engineer Andrew Adams, who spent 14 years in jail before his conviction for murder was ruled unsafe.

The Court of Appeal said he had been denied a fair trial because his lawyers were incompetent, but it was not clear-cut that he would have been cleared by a jury.

Original report here

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