Birmingham Six member warns over changes to UK miscarriage of justice rules
Billy Power says new legislation will make it difficult for people wrongly convicted to win compensation
Paddy Hill (left) and Billy Power of the Birmingham Six. Mr Power says legislation before the House of Commons will make it nearly impossible for people wrongly convicted in Britain to win compensation for years spent in jail. Photograph: Eric Luke
Legislation before the House of Commons will make it nearly impossible for people wrongly convicted in Britain to win compensation for years spent in jail, a member of the Birmingham Six has warned.
The changes to the compensation rule were added by the British Home Office to unrelated anti-social behaviour order legislation that is nearing the end of its parliamentary stage in the Commons.
Under existing law in England and Wales, an individual can win compensation if new evidence is presented that shows “beyond reasonable doubt that there has been a miscarriage of justice”.
Now, however, the British Government’s Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill introduces a stricter test, making it clear that compensation will only be paid “if the new or newly discovered fact shows beyond reasonable doubt that the person was innocent of the offence”.
“This significantly increases the burden of proof on an individual who believes they have been the victim of a miscarriage of justice and wants to claim compensation,” the human rights lobby group Liberty has warned.
Last night, Billy Power, one of six men wrongfully convicted in the 1970s for the Birmingham pub bombings, warned that the changes mean “the standard presumption of innocence would be abolished”.
“Introducing new legislation that makes it impossible for a person wrongfully convicted to pursue compensation leaves that person open to the unchallengeable impugning of their character by the media and others,” he said.
The Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four successfully sued a number of British newspapers for claiming that their innocence had not been proven: “This illustrates the importance of ‘presumption of innocence’, the crux being the restoration of our name,” said Mr Power.
Justice, the human rights group that is the United Kingdom branch of the International Commission of Jurists, has complained about the changes being proposed by policing minister Damian Green. “Miscarriages of justice must not be limited to cases where new evidence shows beyond reasonable doubt that the person is innocent. The current test should remain, that no reasonable jury could convict.”
The Criminal Cases Review Commission was set up in 1997 after the May inquiry, which was established in the wake of the Maguire Seven, the Birmingham Six and other Irish miscarriages of justice.
In 2006, the powers to make ex-gratia compensation payments were abolished, leaving section 133 of the 1988 criminal justice Act as the “only means by which a person who has suffered a miscarriage of justice can obtain financial redress”, said Justice.
“It would be perverse, for example, if none of the notorious miscarriage of justice cases which led to the establishment of the CCRC would now qualify for compensation under section 133.”
None of the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four, Maguire Seven or Judith Ward, who was wrongfully jailed for the M62 1974 coach bombing, would “satisfy the proposed innocence test”, the group said. “Restricting compensation under section 133 to cases where the applicant can demonstrate his innocence is unduly narrow, and does not provide adequate redress in cases where the criminal justice system has gone seriously wrong.”
Describing the legislation as “disturbing”, the Irish in Britain group has urged members to lobby their MPs before it comes back to the Commons for report stage next week.
Rejecting Mr Green’s declaration that the legislation is clarifying the law, the Irish Commission for Prisoners Overseas said it would “change it significantly to the detriment of all those who have fought wrongful conviction and been released”.