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The Post Office Horizon scandal shows how widespread problems in the justice system are
11 January 2024, 16:39
- Matt Foot is co-director of the charity and law centre APPEAL
The overwhelming public outcry following the excellent drama Alan Bates v The Post Office ensured with one law the end of all the subpostmasters wrongful convictions.
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What a marvellous victory and a testament to their enduring campaign.
The drama revealed the many features of miscarriages of justice cases. The swiftness of the subpostmasters’ exoneration was in complete contrast to the hideous delay to get to this stage.
This is because the justice system never wants to admit they got it wrong and places continuous obstacles to get to the truth.
One such obstacle is simply getting disclosure of documents held by the prosecution. When you are trying to appeal a conviction it is even harder to get any disclosure.
Following the release of Judith Ward in 1992 the Court said that the defence should have access to unused material gathered during the case.
However, over thirty years it is now extremely difficult to get any disclosure at all.
The Supreme Court in Nunn in 2014 found that the public interest in discovering miscarriages of justice could be outweighed, at least to some extent, by the public interest in the finality of proceedings and efficient use of police resources.
For those that manage to gather fresh evidence to put before the Court of Appeal (and have already appealed) they then have the additional obstacle of the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which for some time has become a conservative organisation prone to looking to reasons to refuse referral, with a very low referral rate.
If you are one of the very few who manage to get your conviction quashed, compensation has become a nightmare.
In 2014 the government introduced a test that only provided compensation to those that could show the fact that led to the quashing of the conviction proved beyond all reasonable doubt they are innocent.
This is an extremely difficult hurdle to overcome.
Between 2017-22 less than 4% of applications for compensation under the miscarriage of justice scheme were granted.
Many innocent people who have spent years languishing in prison, like Sam Hallam, have been left destitute.
The unfair and repressive provision. S.133(1ZA) of the 2014 Act needs to be repealed immediately.
APPEAL is a small legal charity fighting to overturn wrongful convictions.
We get hundreds of letters every year. As well as representing individual cases, we campaign for reform and provide holistic support to families of our clients.
Last year, our client, Andrew Malkinson had his conviction for rape quashed, having spent 17 years in prison for a crime of which he was innocent.
His case has led to several inquiries.
The Post Office Horizon scandal's own inquiry reveals how deep and widespread these problems go.
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