Two men jailed for murder can seek compensation

 

TWO MEN from Northern Ireland, jailed for life for murder in 1979, were wrongfully refused compensation after their convictions for the murder and IRA membership were subsequently quashed on appeal, the United Kingdom’s supreme court has ruled.

Sinn Féin member of the Stormont Assembly, Raymond McCartney and Eamonn MacDermott had been refused compensation by the court of appeal when it overturned their convictions because they had not shown a miscarriage of justice had occurred.

The supreme court’s decision means a number of high-profile people, such as Barry George, who was acquitted of the murder of BBC broadcaster, Jill Dando after serving eight years in jail, will now make new compensation claims.

Last night, lawyers said the ruling means people whose convictions are overturned should be more likely to win such claims even if they cannot categorically prove their innocence, as long as they can show that the evidence that originally convicted them is now so discredited that it would not be acceptable to any jury.

Mr McCartney served 15 years in jail for the murders of Geoffrey Agate and RUC detective constable, Liam Patrick McNulty, while Mr MacDermott served 17 years for the murder of Mr McNulty. The Northern Ireland Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal from both men in September 1982, but the case was referred back to it in September 2006 by the Criminal Case Review Commission.

Both convictions in February 2007 were overturned by the court of appeal on the ground that new evidence left it with “a distinct feeling of unease” about the safety of their convictions.

During their original trial, both men had argued that statements had been fabricated after they had been ill-treated by RUC officers, but the judge rejected evidence by other witnesses who claimed to have been similarly treated.

However, the judge in the case was not told that a prosecution against one of the witnesses had not gone ahead because the Northern Ireland Director of Public Prosecutions believed that the witness had been assaulted and that another conviction had been quashed.

In his ruling yesterday, Lord Philips said the “newly discovered facts” in Mr McCartney’s and Mr MacDermott’s cases “so undermine the evidence against them that no conviction could possibly be based upon it. “There can be no reasonable doubt of this. Accordingly I would allow their appeal and hold that they are entitled to compensation pursuant to the provisions of Section 133 (of the Criminal Justice Act 1988),” he said.

Lord Hope said: “It is not possible to say in their cases that the newly discovered facts show conclusively that they were innocent of the crimes of which they were convicted. But it is possible to say, in the light of the newly discovered facts, that these were proceedings that ought not to have been brought because the evidence against them has been so completely undermined that no conviction could possibly be based upon it.”

Lord Kerr said the prosecution in the original trial of the two men would have had to “prove beyond reasonable doubt” that the statements made by the two men “had not been obtained by any degrading treatment whatever”.

“It can now be seen that this would have been an impossible task had the full facts and circumstances come to light,” he said, since the officers involved had been involved in assaulting another prisoner in Castlereagh police station at the time.

Others urged to get legal advice as ruling vindicates men

RAYMOND McCartney and Eamonn MacDermott said yesterday they had both been completely vindicated by the supreme court in ruling in London.

Mr McCartney is a Sinn Féin MLA for Foyle and Mr MacDermott is a freelance journalist,

Mr MacDermott said yesterday he was delighted with the outcome of the case and that his innocence had now been finally established.

“It has come as a great relief to my wife, Philomena, and to our teenage children, Domhnall and Cait, because my long campaign to establish my innocence impacted on them,” he said.

“This is the first case of its kind and is very much a landmark ruling. Today is a day of great relief for me and my family and I want to thank my legal team.

“They did not have any legal aid for the case and they took it on without any expectation of even being paid. Because of my murder conviction doors in a professional sense have been closed to me. I know as well that many people feel there was no smoke without fire and that despite this ruling they will probably always think that”, he said.

Mr McCartney, a former IRA leader in the Maze prison, who was a member of the last Assembly’s justice committee, said he would urge others whose convictions were controversial to seek legal advise.

“We have long contended that these convictions were wrong and the process leading to our convictions were wrong and corrupt.

“Our claim for compensation was refused but the supreme court today has ruled very clearly that we are entitled to compensation. I have no idea about the amount of compensation we will receive, we both entrust those details to our legal teams. It is something we have never discussed nor looked at.

“We now have a better definition of a miscarriage of justice.

“There are many implications following this ruling and I have no doubt they will unfold in the coming months and I would urge people who were convicted in similar circumstances to take legal advice,” he added. GEORGE JACKSON