[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 April 2006, 19:47 GMT 20:47 UK
Conviction pay-outs plan attacked
Gerry Conlon
Lives can be left in tatters, said Gerry Conlon
Government plans to limit compensation payments for wrongful convictions ignore their devastating impact on people's lives, campaigners say.

Miscarriages of justice campaigners also criticised changes under which people cleared on their first appeal will not be eligible for pay-outs.

The Home Office said it aimed to enable bigger pay-outs to crime victims.

Individual awards could be limited to 500,000 to bring them in line with the maximum amount paid to crime victims.

Compensation for wrongful conviction will only be available in future to people whose convictions are quashed when new evidence emerges.

The scrapping of the discretionary award scheme would rule out compensation being given to someone like Angela Cannings, who was wrongly convicted of killing two of her sons.

She served 20 months in prison for murder before her convictions were overturned on her first appeal in 2003.

These changes will save more than 5m a year which we will plough back into improving criminal justice and support for victims of crime
Charles Clarke

Her solicitor Bill Bache told BBC News the proposals did not recognise the impact of miscarriages of justice on people's lives.

"Simply because the perpetrator of the injustice against one group of people is the state as opposed to say a criminal in the street or something of that kind, why should there be a distinction between those two?"

'Psychological trauma'

Gerry Conlon, who was wrongly jailed for the 1974 Guildford pub bombings, said the changes were unacceptable.

"This is not something where you spend 15 years in jail and then walk out and continue a normal life," he told BBC News.

Victims... experience psychological trauma, have to rebuild their lives after losing homes, family or friends, and face severe difficulties
James Banks
Miscarriages of Justice Support Service

"Lives have been ruined, lives are in tatters and we need help."

Paddy Hill, who as one of the Birmingham Six wrongly served 16 years in jail for IRA bomb attacks, said the government appeared to be "playing one set of victims off against another".

Mr Hill is a founder of the Miscarriages of Justice Organisation, a charity campaigning for changes in the legal system.

"In today's society there's every possibility to be a victim of crime but you don't expect to be a victim of miscarriage of justice," he said.

Shadow home secretary David Davis said both victims of crime and those who have suffered a miscarriage of justice should be compensated in a "fair fashion" that reflected the impact of their suffering.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg called on the government to retain the discretionary power to provide compensation on a case-by-case basis.

The Miscarriages of Justice Support Service, run by Royal Courts of Justice Citizen Advice Bureau, has also voiced concern.

It said people cleared typically leave court with a grant of 50 and need to wait about nine months to hear if they are eligible for compensation.

"Victims... experience psychological trauma, have to rebuild their lives after losing homes, family or friends, and face severe difficulties in accessing employment either due to their mental health difficulties or the prejudice of employers," said the service's director James Banks.

Legal test

Under the changes announced by the Home Office, a statutory compensation scheme - which currently pays out 6m a year - will remain in force.

Charles Clarke
Mr Clarke has called for a review of the way convictions are quashed

The Home Office said the scrapping of discretionary awards would bring an end to cases where compensation has been paid to criminals cleared on technicalities.

But people now excluded from discretionary payments would still be to argue they were entitled to compensation through the civil courts.

"These changes will save more than 5m a year which we will plough back into improving criminal justice and support for victims of crime," said Home Secretary Charles Clarke.

The Home Office said the highest payout given to the victim of a miscarriage of justice was 2.1m, with average compensation being less than the new limit at about 250,000.

Mr Clarke also announced an "urgent" ministerial review of the legal test used by the Court of Appeal to quash criminal convictions which, he said, could lead to a change in the law.

He said changing the test used by appeal judges would be a "radical" move and one option would be to allow courts to declare that a case was "not proven".




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Hear more about what the plans will mean



SEE ALSO:
Damages claim over arson jailing
09 Mar 06 |  South East Wales
Bridgewater Two in payout appeal
10 Aug 05 |  West Midlands
Cot death mother's payout battle
11 Jan 05 |  England


RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific