The Supreme Court has issued a ruling on the matter of compensation payments to people with quashed convictions.
The ruling gave four categories of those cases in which the Court of Appeal would quash a conviction on the basis of fresh evidence:
- Where it showed a defendant was innocent of the crime
- Where it was such that, had it been available at the time of the trial, no reasonable jury could properly have convicted the defendant
- Where it rendered the conviction unsafe in that, had it been available at the trial, a reasonable jury might or might not have convicted the defendant
- Where something had gone seriously wrong in the investigation of the offence or the conduct of the trial resulting in the conviction of someone who should not have been convicted.
The primary object of the law (Section 133 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988) was clearly to compensate a person who had been convicted and punished for a crime which he did not commit. A subsidiary objective was not to compensate someone who had in fact committed the crime.
The last category fell outside this purpose as it dealt with abuses of process so shocking that the conviction should be quashed even if it did not put in doubt the guilt of the convicted person.
The third category was also outside the purpose of the law because the miscarriage of justice had to be shown “beyond reasonable doubt”. The third category would include a significant number of people who had in fact committed the offences, as an inevitable consequence of a system which required guilt to be proved beyond reasonable doubt.
Cases in the first category were clearly covered by the law. However, the majority (Lord Phillips, Lord Hope, Lady Hale, Lord Kerr and Lord Clarke) held that the ambit of Section 133 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 was not restricted to the first category as it would deprive of compensation some defendants who were in fact innocent but could not establish this beyond reasonable doubt.
A wider scope was “plainly intended” at the time of the drafting of Article 14(6). Even though it would not guarantee that all those entitled to compensation were in fact innocent, the test for ‘miscarriage of justice’ in Section 133 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 was as follows:
“A new or newly discovered fact will show conclusively 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.”
A miscarriage of justice in a case of that kind would be as great as it would have been if he had in fact been innocent, because in neither case would he have been prosecuted at all.