Saturday, 2 May 2015

Compensation for a Miscarriage of Justice: Not Innocent Enough?


I wanted to write something about an issue that is causing me and many others concern regarding the paying of compensation to those who have suffered a miscarriage of justice. This is one of those subjects that seems to be reported in the media in a way that can be so easily misunderstood, certainly by me.

I couldn’t understand that if someone was freed on appeal, and therefore proven innocent, he or she could be deemed ‘not innocent enough’ to be granted compensation for having suffered a miscarriage of justice. Such a pronouncement by the State seemed quite odd to me.

How could one court hand down a judgement ‘that a person was innocent’ one week, and another court would then make the decision that they were not entitled to compensation the following week. It is drawing the conclusion that the individual who had been cleared was not sufficiently innocent to deserve compensation. The Judges appear to have gone quite mad by giving incomprehensible and seemingly incongruous rulings in such cases. Often the reasons given by the Ministry of Justice are that no one else has been convicted of the crime that the person was wrongly convicted of or that the person cannot prove their innocence sufficiently. Surely being proven ‘not guilty’ means innocent? It does to any reasonable person, as it does to me, but it doesn’t mean that to the Ministry of Justice.

The compensation claims of Victor Nealon and Barry George are two important cases that spring to mind. There are no doubts that both of these men did not and could not have committed the crimes they were wrongly convicted of and both were rightly freed by the Court of Appeal. They were 100% innocent of the offences they had spent years in jail for and they should have been compensated by the State for having suffered so long in jail. The system got it wrong so the system should give them money to help make amends. Nevertheless both Nealon and George have previous convictions and have served terms of imprisonment for offences other than those they were wrongly convicted of.  This, it would appear, makes a difference to them receiving compensation, but should it?

Regardless of their previous convictions, I couldn’t understand how someone ‘could not be innocent enough,’ so I did some research to understand how this principle might be applied informally across all parts of the justice system.  I took a look at the rules of compensation more widely within the Ministry of Justice guidelines. There are clear and concise rules about giving compensation to anyone with previous convictions where they have served a term of imprisonment.

The current position with regard to compensation for a miscarriage of justice, would appear to have its roots in a change of the rules that took place about fifteen years ago regarding how the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board (C.I.C.B) paid out compensation. This organisation was set up in 1964 to oversee and regularize payments to all victims of crime where they had suffered personal injury or some loss or hardship. For instance, if a citizen had their arm broken during a robbery they would receive a set amount of money from the C.I.C.B.

This led to The Ministry of Justice being heavily criticized in the media because prisoners were also able to receive pay-outs for injuries inflicted upon them whilst they were serving a term of imprisonment. An example might be where someone could have been attacked and injured by another prisoner, they would have received an automatic pay out from the Criminal Injuries Compensation. The media was outraged that criminals should be given money in the same way that members of the public were given money for their injuries. The knee jerk reaction by the State to this media frenzy was to rule that there would be no more compensation for any injuries suffered by a serving prisoner who had been a victim of a crime whilst serving a term of imprisonment .[1]

“3. An award will not be made to an applicant who on the date of their application has a conviction for an offence which resulted in: (a) a sentence excluded from rehabilitation; (b) a custodial sentence; (c) a sentence of service detention; (d) removal from Her Majesty’s service; (e) a community order; (f) a youth rehabilitation order; or (g) a sentence equivalent to a sentence under sub-paragraphs (a) to (f) imposed under the law of Northern Ireland or a member State of the European Union, or such a sentence properly imposed in a country outside the European Union.”

I know this because in May 2004, a prisoner attacked me attempting to slash my throat in an unprovoked and random attack. I needed twenty-eight stitches to sew up the wound in the back and side of my neck. The C.I.C.B. refused my application for compensation, in effect stating that it was my own fault for being in jail with violent prisoners. As I was serving a term of imprisonment I was barred from receiving compensation for the injury I sustained. The fact that I shouldn’t have been in prison in the first place was ignored by the CICB. The media were happy that prisoners were barred from compensation and the public seemingly satisfied that prisoners deserved to be scalded, slashed, stabbed and harmed because they were in prison, with their attitude being it’s their fault they are in there so it’s right that they  won’t be given any compensation from the C.I.C.B. I believe this to be wrong. A prisoner who suffers a loss because of another’s criminal act should be properly compensated.

Going back to the issue of compensation for miscarriages of justice, I am speculating that the Ministry of Justice has simply and informally harmonized their rules regarding compensation for prisoners and ex-prisoners. So by analogy, the State would appear to have decided that anyone who has served a term of imprisonment should be barred from receiving compensation for a miscarriage of justice. This might explain how it is that the State has evaded paying out compensation to these latest miscarriages of justice cases.  It suggests to me that what the police and prosecuting authorities have done in pursuing someone for a certain crime was justified because they had already been convicted of a crime before. It would appear to be the case that the statutory compensation system for criminal injuries and for miscarriages of justice are now administered using the same rules. If you have served a term of imprisonment then statutory compensation for a miscarriage of justice is not automatic. It is not barred completely but any claim has to be justified.  Analogously then, both Victor Nealon and Barry George were unable to justify compensation for their miscarriage of justice because of their previous convictions.

To be labelled ‘not innocent enough’ when being denied compensation for a miscarriage of justice is, it would seem, the way the courts justify these wrongful imprisonments. Not paying compensation for a miscarriage of justice is a human rights issue but sadly the media appear to demonize people previously convicted of crime who in their eyes deserve little sympathy even when released from wrongful imprisonment.

I know there will always be hard cases that cause concern where someone with a previous conviction is given compensation for an overturned conviction, but in the cases of Barry George and Victor Nealon they should be compensated for the miscarriage of justice they suffered, just as any victims of crime should be compensated for any loss they suffered.  

Just because a person is in prison, or has served a term of imprisonment, it should not mean they are forever marginalised and excluded from any benefits available to the rest of society. A conviction should not automatically demonise that person for life so that, in effect, their punishment is never ending. A miscarriage of justice is wrong, and compensation should always be paid by the State when it caused the wrongful conviction by prosecuting a person when they should not have done.

Jeremy




[1] Ministry of Justice. The Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2012 (See link) at Page 41.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Jeremy's Easter Blog 2015

This blog is part of a series called a 'Life of Less Liberty.'

I wanted to write something for Easter, and it seemed fair to make this more about memories of dad, as I recently wrote about mum for Mothers Day.

I thought I'd share something topical knowing that on Friday 20th March we got to see a solar eclipse. Thousands of eyes looked up at the sky. We were able to see many stars and even one or two of our planets in the morning sky.  Dad would have loved it and as you may remember I mentioned before that we enjoyed stargazing together when I was young.

There were no sat-navs to help pilots navigate their way across the skies when dad was flying Mosquitoes in North Africa. From a very early age dad would explain to me about all the important things we could see in the night sky, for instance all the stars and constellations could assist navigation although not quite accurate enough to get you to B&Q.

Dad and I had a routine in the evenings when I lived on the farm. Before going to bed
we’d let the dogs out for their late night wee. Whilst they were doing that, we’d walk over to the cattle shed to check on our beef herd to see that all was well with the cattle. There was no light pollution in our corner of Essex and if it was a cloudless night, the skies were dripping with a billion twinkly stars. To look at this sight was always quite magical and a shared time together for dad and I, but to me, in the early days nothing more than that. Dad showed me all kinds of structures and pictures of constellations which in the end made the night sky so interesting and captivating. I have to admit I never quite understood how it was possible to navigate from ‘A’ to ‘B’ by looking at the pole star, but it was always fun picking out particular stars.

We often wondered if there was life out there or if UFO’s were real and full of alien life. It was a theme we could go back to time and time again. We’d wonder what aliens would be like – what they’d eat – what they’d say and what we’d say to them. Dad was funny, and we’d laugh as he’d adopt a funny voice and ask nonsense questions. It was just our time each day just to ponder, and ensure all was well with our world.

It was a great way for dad to teach his philosophy to me, and I believe his teachings today the same as I ever did. It’s a cornerstone to who we were as a family, ensuring that we were always well grounded within the ebb and flow of the seasons, and it kept our ideas from getting too big. Dad taught me that we were a tiny, tiny part of something huge, that we had almost no influence upon at all. However, he said what we could do was change and influence some of the smaller things around us, especially so if we, together as a local community all pulled together in the same direction.

It’s partly why dad never really liked or trusted central Government and he didn’t believe that this was real democracy at all. He liked the little local Parish Councils, and the village stuff far more, where acts of kindness and generosity really did make a difference. Dad enjoyed doing good deeds, and performing various acts of kindness. He taught me about the importance of appreciating our good fortune, and why it was a good thing to share that with others. He knew we were lucky and that life was to be appreciated in that moment. That was the farmer in him, because nature could change the weather in a heart- beat and ruin our crops but that was out of our control – just had to make the best of it.

Dad really was a lovely man, and I was so lucky to have him as my father. There is no question in my mind that he taught me the skills necessary for me to have coped with thirty years of imprisonment. I’d like to hope that he’d be proud of how I’ve survived this ordeal.

I’m often asked how I’ve kept so positive, in light of all I’ve been through during my wrongful imprisonment, and for the most part it’s because of all the wisdom and knowledge given to me by my mum and dad. They taught me that our cup is always half full, and that no matter what, things could be much worse. We should make the very best of the moment and don’t waste a second of our lives because you can never get those seconds back. We should be positive, because like attracts like, and that nothing good ever happened to a serial moaner and complainer.

 Above all dad taught me that to overcome any trial or tribulation, we should use the strength within each of us to get us through. No man is an island, and dad knew and taught me that there was strength in numbers, but to succeed, that first step had to be from a strong foundation within. Mum and dad took the time to ensure that I was able to cope with whatever life threw at me, and an ability to enjoy the moment no matter what. I’m forever grateful to mum and dad, because they did a really good job in teaching me about how to be in this world, and how to make the best of things.

I’m looking forward to the next chapter now, and I’m sorry I can’t say any more than that, but dad loved that phrase. “Things always come out in the wash”. The wrongfulness of my conviction is currently on that final spin cycle, so we’ll see very soon if that greasy stain of corruption has been removed – and I’ll hear dad’s words on the Appeal Court steps ringing loud in my ears, “I told you so, things always work out for the best in the end.” I’ve always known that to be true, and so no matter what, I’ve always hope, and for that I owe my parents everything.

Happy Easter
 Jeremy.


Sunday, 15 March 2015

Happy Mother's Day

Part of a series: "A Life of Less Liberty" by Jeremy Bamber. 

I wanted to dedicate some time to think about my Mum, owing to Mother’s Day coming up on Sunday 15th March. I think about Mum all the while as she had such a huge impact upon every aspect of my life and who I am today. It would be possible for me to chat about Mum for hours, but it’s better if I stick to three topics that I am hoping will show you how eclectic and diverse Mum’s interests were.

Before I start, on the News tonight, someone had taken a photograph of a weasel clinging

to the back of a woodpecker. It had jumped onto its back and the bird had taken flight with Mr Weasel clinging on. Mum would have loved seeing such an amazing sight, but like me she would have thought, “looks more like a stoat than a weasel”. This is just the kind of thing that Mum and I would have spent ages chatting about.

I’ve spoken before about Mum’s love of wildlife and all things ‘countryside’, which meant more to her than any of her other interests. There was a programme I watched on BBC 2 “Natural World” about Owls. It was a beautifully filmed piece that described the powers Owls have. I can recall as a little boy, of about seven years old, Mum saying to me that we had something exciting to do. She had already inspired a love of nature in me. We shared so many intimate and exciting moments together. Often being quiet as mice and peeping at some wildlife doing its thing, both of us would be fizzing with joy of that shared moment, for instance, watching Mr and Mrs Fox and their cubs. When we enjoyed that time of wonder together, it would often end in us giggling and we would take furtive glances at each other, as if to say, “Did you see that?” and of course each of us had, but we still did the glances and this would cause us to giggle – the slightest noise and the wildlife would scatter but trying to keep our poker faces made us laugh.

So Mum was always enthusing over something. On one occasion we got our torches and Mum had some off cuts from our rabbit stew lunch she was preparing. She put them into a little bag and off we went into our straw walled Dutch barn. The walls of the barn were made of stacked up straw bales to help keep the frost off the potatoes when they were in
store. Mum had my little hand in hers as we climbed onto the steps and up to the walkway. I wasn’t allowed up there on my own as it was too high and too dangerous. Mum kept shushing me ‘cos I wanted to know what it was that she was so excited to share with me, only to be shown two baby Barn Owls. They were perhaps five or six weeks old, balls of white fluff, with heads that were all eyes. We had often watched their mum hunting at dusk, when we were out on our evening walks. I’m not sure if it was okay for us to do what we did as we fed the chicks bits of raw rabbit meat together – it was so cool to watch them feeding. The most fun was gathering up the owl pellets to examine so we could investigate the food Mrs Owl had been feeding them. We often went to look at the young Owls until they fledged. They stayed for a short while before they flew away. The adult Owl stayed on for a few years. These are amazing birds – silent fliers, clever and a joy to watch.

One of Mums other interests was her love of movies, something which she explained to me had come from her being posted to India during the War as a member of the Auxiliary Nursing Yeomanry. She’d been stationed in Calcutta. Mum explained that it was so hot and humid that to escape the heat the girls would all go to the cinema, one of the few places with air conditioning – that way they could have some respite from that infernal, relentless heat.

Mum was never one to splash out money on herself, it wasn’t about being frugal, she
simply found being selfish impossible – but spoiling the children was fine. Mum didn’t go to the movies on her own, but taking Sheila and I and a couple of our mates to the pictures, with interval ice creams and toffee popcorn, was all fine and dandy. Thing is, looking back now I realise we went to see lots of films that were right up Mum’s street rather than out and out kids stuff. We saw children’s movies too but also lots of Westerns I seem to remember, and Mum would enjoy discussing the films with us afterwards, over milkshakes and banana splits in a small tearoom over the road from the cinema.

I think Mum should have been a teacher as she loved explaining about Geography and History and the moral aspects of films. She was genuinely interested in what Sheila or I thought about a particular issue and we had many discussions after our visits to the cinema.

We continued to catch a movie or two with me, Sheila and Mum, but by my twenties it
tended to be just Mum and I. We would pick what we would go to see carefully as Mum didn’t like the explicitness of many films. It wasn’t because she was in any way a prude; it was because she couldn’t stand lazy film directors who put in unnecessary sex scenes. Mum had watched so many great films by amazing Hollywood directors that she reasoned she could tell the difference between a good movie and a movie using lazy techniques. We’d laugh about it, as it was incongruous with her farmer’s wife image that mum was this high-brow movie critic, but it was something she did know a great deal about. Mum loved Robert Redford, I was into Clint Eastwood, but not in the same way!

And so to baking. 


Mum loved baking and was very good at it, cooking on an Aga which can take some adjustment, but Mum took it in her stride when moving to White House Farm and always produced delicious sponges. She could make cakes to die for and taught Sheila and I how to bake. Bless my dear Mum, Happy Mother’s Day. I shall bake a Victoria sponge on the day in her memory and remember her with real love.

Jeremy 


Sunday, 22 February 2015

“To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay, right or justice.” Chapter 40 of the Magna Carta

I wanted to say something about Magna Carta. Eight hundred years ago, on 15th June 1215, King John agreed to, and signed this landmark document, that began to codify laws and legal issues for the very first time in UK history. The start of English Law, some might say.

Quite incredibly, in my opinion, there will be constitutional festivities being held from 23rd-25th February to celebrate Magna Carta, in some way to champion how great the Rule of Law is in Britain today. This summit is supposedly “A unique collaboration between the UK Government, the Legal sector and the City of London.” The focus being: how great is our interaction between the law and business here in the UK.

I don’t doubt that this is true and wonderful for the Commercial Law Sector, but at what
cost to the Criminal and Civilian sectors? David Cameron’s Conservative Government is intent on dismantling access to justice for the needy, the poor, the destitute and for all prisoners, who without the financial riches to pay for legal assistance, either teach themselves law, or live without much legal protection. A situation the UK should be ashamed of, the State effectively thumbing its nose at Magna Carta and a universal, all-encompassing system that protects everyone both rich and poor from exploitation by others.

As if that appalling situation is not bad enough, the Government is hell bent on watering down protection for people’s basic human rights as well. I have written recently about the Conservative Parties proposal to repeal the Human Rights Act, if that is, they are re-elected in May this year. Cameron and Co want to remove the mechanism for enforcing our basic Human Rights, the very thing that prevents the abuse of the vulnerable by the powerful.

However, we don’t have to wait for the Conservatives to be re-elected for this sorry state of affairs to be enacted, it is in operation right now. The Government took away Legal Aid funding for so many legal cases by recently slashing the Legal Aid budget by tens of millions of pounds.

An example of this policy and its effect upon a vulnerable group of people is that prisoners can no longer obtain funding to enforce prison rules. The lives of all prisoners currently in UK prisons, almost ninety thousand of us, are controlled by rules called Prison Service Instructions (PSI’s) and Prison Service Orders (PSO’s). These are the laws that control every aspect of how staff can interact with prisoners within the prison system. Now that Legal Aid funding has been removed for enforcing PSI’s and PSO’s, all prisoners are vulnerable should any staff member fail to act within the constraints of the PSI’s and PSO’s in place to protect them.

Similarly, prisoners Human Rights cannot be protected when there is no funding for a lawyer to mount a Court case to ask for that legal protection, and prisoners are not alone in this. The poor are also finding it harder and harder to make use of the UK’s legal system to seek protection when their Human Rights are being abused. This means that vulnerable witnesses can face the accused questioning them in the witness box because many defendants are not entitled to Legal Aid and face defending themselves in court.

The spirit of Magna Carta can hardly be celebrated eight hundred years on, when the universal protection of all UK Citizens in the eyes of the law, is being undermined by a Government determined to introduce policies that place many millions of it’s citizens open to exploitation by gang masters, bullies, abusers, the mean and anyone else with the will and power to do so, and that is wrong on every level.

The sorry state of the UK’s Criminal and Civil Law Sectors that should protect these citizens makes this ‘Global Law Summit’, in celebration of Magna Carta an insult to what Magna Carta should now stand for. Accordingly, I’m in total agreement with Shami Chakrabarti, the Director of Liberty, who told the Guardian:

“This event has been promoted by a Government which had decimated access to justice. As a Human Rights Campaigner, my place is with the protesters.”

I’m also in agreement with the protesters, access to justice must be for everyone, just as Human Rights protection must be for everyone. As we celebrate eight hundred years since the signing of Magna Carta, at Runnymede, on the banks of the Thames, we should consider how we’ve allowed David Cameron and his Government to make legal protection available only to those who can afford it. That to me isn’t in the spirit of Magna Carta. Surely, the law must be accessible to everyone.

Jeremy



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