Wrongful convictions: the innocent lives in UK prisons


In March 1966, Muhammad Aziz and Khalil Islam were found guilty of the murder of Malcolm X. After having provided alibis and no exculpatory evidence placed them at the scene of the crime they have been found innocent of the crimes they never committed 55 years later. Islam never got to see the day the American justice system admitted their wrongdoings, dying in 2009 after serving two decades in prison.

One might easily pass this off by saying simply, ‘this is America’. The country’s justice system is famously flawed; the recent trial of Kyle Rittenhouse who murdered three people during the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 but was found innocent exemplifies such controversiality. The United Kingdom, however, is not innocent to wrongful convictions either. The University of Law found that there were 1,336 successful appeals in both the Magistrates’ court and the Court of Appeal between June 2019 and March 2020, with London seeing the highest levels of appeals against the Magistrates’ decisions. In 2018, 1.473 million cases were resolved by the Magistrates’ courts but 79% were for summary offences or breaches and hence could have been resolved with trial and without even the possibility of a wrongful conviction ever occurring.

1,336 successful appeals

In 2011, there came a drastic change in the compensation system for those who had been wrongfully convicted. The Supreme Court decided that a ‘miscarriage of justice’ may only apply to cases where new evidence was found and would defeat the evidence previously given so that ‘no conviction could possibly be based upon it’. The Government then furthered their stance on the matter in 2014 when the law was changed to ‘if and only if the new or newly discovered fact shows beyond reasonable doubt that the person did not commit the offence’.

In terms of economic compensation, the Secretary of State is allowed to decide, on an individual case basis, who is eligible or ineligible. The amount that a person may be given, however, is decided through an independent body. The largest amount of money that may be awarded is £1 million (if the time served is a minimum of 10 years) and for all other cases under the 10-year timing, £500,000.

We must recognise the number of cases that find justified conclusions and provide justice to those affected. Still, there is still a long (and probably never-ending) road ahead to a perfect judicial system. It is therefore not just the courts but the general population which must take better notice of slips in our institution and strive to better it.

Image: Benoit Brummer via Wikimedia Commons

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