Men who spent years in jail before convictions overturned lose compensation case

Two men who served years behind bars before their convictions were overturned have lost their fight for compensation at the UK’s highest court.

Sam Hallam, who was convicted of murder, and Victor Nealon, who was found guilty of attempted rape, took their legal battle to the Supreme Court following defeats at the High Court and the Court of Appeal.

At a hearing in May last year, their legal teams said the UK was free to make its own decisions – as long as they did not interfere with the “presumption of innocence”.

But, by a majority of five to two, seven Supreme Court justices dismissed their appeals on Wednesday.

The court declined to make a declaration that the refusal to award them compensation was incompatible with their human rights.

Mr Hallam, from east London, served more than seven years after he was sentenced to life as a teenager following his conviction at the Old Bailey in 2005 for the murder of a trainee chef.

Mr Nealon, who is in his fifties and originally from Dublin, was given a life sentence after his trial at Hereford Crown Court and served 17 years in jail – 10 more than the seven-year minimum term, after he persisted in asserting he was innocent.

They were both set free after appeal judges ruled that fresh evidence made their convictions unsafe.

Mr Hallam’s conviction was quashed in 2012.

Former postman Mr Nealon, who was convicted in 1997 of the attempted rape of a woman in Redditch, Worcestershire, won his appeal in December 2013.

But each had applications for compensation rejected by the Justice Secretary.

When their challenges against the Justice Secretary’s refusal were originally aired at the High Court in 2015, they asked two judges to rule that UK law is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) because it wrongly restricts compensation in “miscarriage of justice” cases.

Lawyers argued on their behalf that the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which governs compensation payments, was amended in 2014 in a way that violated Article 6 (2) of the ECHR – the presumption of innocence – because it required a person seeking an award to prove they were innocent.

Their compensation claims under the 1988 Act were rejected on the basis that it was not the case, as required by the Act, that a “new or newly discovered fact shows beyond reasonable doubt that there has been a miscarriage of justice”.

Lord Justice Burnett, who later became the Lord Chief Justice, ruled when announcing the High Court’s decision that the law “does not require the applicant for compensation to prove his innocence”.

He said: “It is the link between the new fact and the applicant’s innocence of which the Secretary of State must be satisfied before he is required to pay compensation under the 1988 Act, not his innocence in a wider or general sense.”

The two men took their fight to the Court of Appeal in 2016, but failed to persuade the court to overturn the earlier ruling.