Case to watch: Nealon & Hallam v The United Kingdom

On Tuesday the European Court of Human Rights will rule on the cases of Sam Hallam and Victor Nealon.

The two men, who spent a total of 24 years in prison for crimes they did not commit, took their legal fight for compensation to Strasbourg’s top court. Their appeal was heard by 17 judges in the European Court of Human rights‘ Grand Chamber which is convened for exceptional cases to consider a test case challenging the 2014 changes to the law which means that the wrongly convicted now have to prove innocence to be successful in a claim for state support.

In the last eight years, less than 7% of applications for compensation by victims of miscarriages of justice have been successful. The Ministry of Justice awarded 35 claimants £2.4m over that period – a fraction of the more then £81 million paid out between 1999 and 2007 when there were 306 successful applicants.

The ECtHR has noted in this case that both men applied to the the Ministry of Justice for compensation but were unsuccessful ‘because their cases failed to meet the statutory test for compensation’ under Criminal Justice Act 1988, as amended by the AntiSocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. According to the new scheme, there needs to be a new or newly discovered fact did not show beyond reasonable doubt that they had not committed the offences. The decision letters sent to both applicants stated that nothing in them was ‘intended to undermine, qualify or cast doubt upon [their] conviction’. Both men challenged the MoJ arguing that the statutory test for compensation was incompatible with Article 6’s presumption of innocence because it required them to ‘prove’ their ‘innocence’ in order to be eligible for compensation.

Sam Hallam’s lawyer, Matt Foot of APPEAL, recently wrote in PROOF magazine about this fight for justice. He said the law on compensation in the UK is ‘an affront to victims of miscarriages of justice and to the presumption of innocence and should be abolished’.