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David Vascott

News, Features and Opinion Editor, Solicitors Journal

Exonerated prisoners will no longer be charged for saved living expenses

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Exonerated prisoners will no longer be charged for saved living expenses

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Compensation payments made to the wrongly convicted will no longer be reduced to account for ‘saved living costs’.

The Ministry of Justice announced the change to guidelines on 6 August. The decision follows the outcry over the case of Andrew Malkinson, whose conviction was overturned last month by the Court of Appeal. Malkinson had been in prison for 17 years for a rape he did not commit. When he was released, however, he was told a deduction would be made from his compensation to account for the living costs he had saved during his time inside.

The Ministry of Justice press release said:

Lord Chancellor Alex Chalk has taken decisive action to inject greater fairness into how payout decisions for miscarriages of justice are made, ending the possibility that people can be ‘charged’ for saved living costs.

This element of the guidance was added in 2006 and will be removed with immediate effect, applying to all future payments made under the miscarriage of justice compensation scheme.

The miscarriage of justice compensation scheme is designed to help individuals restart and rebuild their lives. It is just one route in which an individual can receive compensation for a wrongful conviction, with other options including suing public bodies.

In order to be eligible for a payment under the scheme individuals must:

  • Apply within 2 years of being pardoned or having their conviction reversed as a result of a newly discovered fact.
  • Have had their conviction reversed on the basis of a new fact which demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt they did not commit the offence.
  • Not be responsible for the non-disclosure of the new fact.

Once eligible, the level of compensation is decided by an independent assessor. An award of compensation will normally fall into 2 parts:

  • Compensation for the impact of the wrongful conviction on an individual, including damage to their reputation or to their physical or mental health, loss of freedom and inconvenience.
  • Loss of past or future earnings, expenses or legal costs resulting from their time in custody.

Under previous guidance, the independent assessor could make a deduction from loss of past earnings based on “saved living expenses” such as rent or mortgage payments which were not incurred during their time in prison.

The maximum amount of compensation payable under the miscarriage of justice system is £1 million for 10 or more years imprisonment or £500,000 for up to 10 years.