‘Unsafe’ Convictions: Deﬁning and Compensating
Miscarriages of Justice
The names of the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six, the Maguire Seven, the
Bridgewater Four and many others are synonymous with the term ‘miscarriages of
justice.’ Scenes of jubilation outside the Royal Courts of Justice with freed
appellants proclaiming they had been ‘found innocent’ were commonplace at the
beginning of the 1990s. Although this may represent the media and public
perception of a ‘miscarriage of justice,’ in 1999 the Court of Appeal held in Rv
(no 1) that the term could also apply to those situations where, although
satisﬁed that the appellant was factually guilty, the conviction was quashed as a
result of ‘a blatant and extremely serious failure to adhere to the rule of law.’
Nicholas Mullen’s conviction had been declared unsafe
after material had been
disclosed eight years after the original trial which revealed that the police, MI6,
the Security Service and ofﬁcials from the Foreign Ofﬁce and the Home Ofﬁce had
colluded with the authorities in Zimbabwe to procure Mullen’s deportation in
circumstances contrary to Zimbawean law and internationally recognised human
rights. It was argued on appeal that this was an abuse of process, and the quashing
of the conviction was the appeal court’s way of marking its disapproval of the
behaviour of the prosecuting authorities in bringing Mullen to trial.
Following his release, Mullen applied for compensation under the statutory
which is set out in section 133(1) of the Criminal Justice Act 1988:
Where a person has been convicted of a criminal offence and when subsequently his
conviction has been reversed or he has been pardoned on the ground that a new or newly
discovered fact shows beyond reasonable doubt that there has been a miscarriage of justice,
the Secretary of State shall pay compensation for the miscarriage to the person who has
suffered punishment as a result.
The section was enacted to give effect to the United Kingdom’s obligations under
Article 14(6) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Law Department, London School of Economics. I am very grateful to David Schiff, Richard
Nobles and the anonymous referee for commenting on earlier drafts of this case note.
3 Criminal Appeal Act 1995, s 2(1).
4 The abuse of process ground can be contrasted with the s 78 of the Police and Criminal Evidence
Act which allows the trial judge to exclude illegally obtained or unfair evidence if it is deemed it
would have ‘an adverse effect on the fairness of the proceedings.’ The Court of Appeal has held
that the exclusion of evidence under s 78 is not to mark the disapproval of the behaviour of the
prosecuting authorities as the power only relates to the fairness of the trial. See the speech by Auld
LJ in Chalkley and Jeffries  2 Cr App R 79, 107. For criticisms of this, see generally A. Choo
and S. Nash ‘What’s the matter with section 78’ (1999) Crim LR 929.
5 Mullen also applied under the ex gratia scheme whereby the Home Secretary has a discretion to
award compensation which falls into speciﬁed categories as set out in the written statement to the
House of Commons on 19 November 1985 (HC Deb vol 87 col 691–692) but this case note only
refers to the statutory scheme.
rThe Modern Law Review Limited 2003 (MLR 66:3, May). Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd.,
9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA. 441