Durkan angered as Government puts obstacles in way of miscarriage of justice victims

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  • by Kevin Mullan

Londonderry MP Mark Durkan says a new definition of ‘miscarriage of justice’ - brought in to prevent blanket compensation claims following quashed convictions - will force people wrongly convicted of offences prove beyond reasonable doubt they didn’t commit crimes before they would be entitled to pay outs.

The SDLP MP challenged the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims, Damian Green, over the Government’s machinations concerning the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill at Westminster.

A clause in the Bill (115) proposed that for a ‘miscarriage of justice’ to have occurred new evidence must “show beyond reasonable doubt that the person was innocent of the offence.”

The House of Lords proposed an amendment - supported by Mr Durkan - that defined a ‘miscarriage of justice’ as having occurred if new evidence “shows conclusively that the evidence against the person at trial is so undermined that no conviction could possibly be based on it.”

As a compromise the Government proposed that the Lords amendment be rejected and that instead, “did not commit,” replace “innocent” in the original clause.

Mr Durkan spoke in favour of the Lords amendment during the Commons debate.

He said: “The Government’s response to the Lords’ fairly reasonable and measured amendment is to say that they have solved the problem of innocence by using the term ‘did not commit’ about the offence.

“The Minister was asked again and again to tell us the difference. A brand of soup used to be advertised by the slogan, ‘The difference is in the thickness.’

“We are being told that there is a big difference and the Minister is emphasising its importance, but he cannot explain, specify, spell out or measure in any way the difference between whether someone can show that the evidence proves that they are innocent of an offence or whether they can show that it proves that they did not commit the offence.”

Mr Durkan said that having campaigned on behalf of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four, he was aware that compensation was a secondary issue to that of the absolute declaration of innocence.

He said: “For them, the issue is not compensation but the absolute assertion of innocence. That was why offence was taken at the use and abuse of the term ‘innocence’ in the original Bill, but that was not the only issue.

“The burden of proof was altered and an attempt was made to allow in the system for someone who had been convicted and imprisoned for a long period not to be entitled to compensation, because they could not prove beyond reasonable doubt that they did not commit the offence or their innocence.”




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