Deductions to miscarriage of justice compensation to be scrapped
Alice Gregory – 14 August 2023
Last month, the Court of Appeal overturned the conviction of Andrew Malkinson, a man who had spent 17 years in prison for a rape he did not commit. He was initially sentenced to life with a minimum of seven years but, thanks to recent DNA evidence, Malkinson was found not guilty. Upon his release from prison, he found out that he would have to pay back living costs for his time spent in prison, which would be deducted from his miscarriage of justice compensation. As you might expect, this caused uproar and ultimately led to the immediate removal of the forced deductions scheme by the Ministry of Justice.
The compensation scheme in place already makes it difficult for individuals who are wrongly convicted to seek financial compensation. Currently, victims of a miscarriage of justice who were imprisoned for less than 10 years can claim up to £500,000, while those who spent 10 or more years behind bars are entitled to a maximum of £1 million. Up until 2006, however, the government ran two schemes for compensating these victims, one of which was discretionary while the other was statutory. The discretionary scheme was scrapped in 2006 by the home secretary of the time, while the Secretary of State can compensate the wrongly convicted on a case-by-case basis under the remaining statutory scheme. The wrongly convicted must also make an application to the Secretary of State within two years from the date of their pardon to be eligible for compensation.
The guidance here is dictated by the Criminal Justice Act 1988, section 133, which was amended in 2014 to add that one is only entitled to compensation ‘if and only if the new or newly discovered fact shows beyond reasonable doubt that the person did not commit the offence.’ That ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ is a somewhat tricky phrase, and essentially makes it so that victims of a miscarriage of justice must prove their innocence with concrete evidence. The DNA evidence of Malkinson’s case, for example, proved his innocence and secured his ticket out of prison. So, having spent 17 years behind bars, he should be able to claim up to £1 million from the government. However, this was originally set to be reduced to essentially cover his room and board in prison! Even though he no longer has to pay these fees, many others who wrongfully spent time in prison would have been given reduced compensation for this exact reason. Given the publicity of Malkinson’s compensation, there have been calls to reimburse the deductions from other previously wrongly convicted individuals.