Beyond the Wall, HMP Glenochil, Scotland Gold Award for Watercolour

Beyond the Wall, HMP Glenochil, Scotland Gold Award for Watercolour

The UK is at the ‘worst moment it has ever been’ for tackling miscarriages of justice, according to solicitor advocate and wrongful conviction specialist, Mark Newby. In a speech to the United Against Injustice conference held in Liverpool on 10th October 2015, Newby spoke of the urgent need for the establishment to accept responsibility for miscarriages of justice, and to recognise the effect of human error.

‘The fundamental problem with a system that never admits mistakes is that it is in a downward spiral – organisations that cannot admit fault in the end will become failing organisations.’

Newby spoke at length about the case of Victor Nealon – as featured on – one which has exposed ‘a system unable to accept responsibility.’ Nealon, a former postman, was convicted of attempted rape in 1997 and spent 17 years in prison. The evidence used to secure Nealon’s conviction was a disputed ID parade and a weakened alibi. DNA exhibits shown to the jury were not tested at the time of the case, and two applications to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) to test the DNA Nealon himself had offered were rejected on spurious grounds.

Nealon did eventually receive an apology from the Criminal Cases Review Commission for their failures in respect of his case, and although Newby welcomed this, he understandably felt that it fell short of making up for all that Nealon has endured as a result of his wrongful conviction.

In 2008, in an attempt ‘to do what the Commission would not,’ DNA tests were commissioned on behalf of Nealon, with support from the Legal Aid Agency. These tests revealed startling results: while DNA evidence was found on the victim’s clothing, it did not match Nealon’s.

According to Newby, Nealon’s case represented ‘complete system failure’, and offered little hope to others who find themselves in this predicament. He said: ‘Even if you manage to achieve, against all odds, a successful quashing of your conviction, it is virtually impossible to be compensated for what has happened to you.’

Newby also used his speech to take aim at the police saying ‘this case offers little comfort’. Although West Mercia Police launched a fresh investigation into the case in order to find the true suspect for the original crime, Newby noted with disappointment that 18 months later, the investigation is still ongoing. Furthermore, an investigation by the Professional Standards Department into the original investigation and the officers involved has become seriously delayed.

And while both the CCRC and the police indicated their support for Nealon’s challenge against the Ministry of Justice, it was clear that they were keen to avoid addressing their own failings in the case— according to Newby, a pattern of ‘no responsibility but a willingness to pass responsibility to others.’ To add insult to injury, Nealon’s ‘incompetent’ original solicitors were also seeking to avoid liability.

‘If the appellant was let down by the police, his solicitors and the CCRC, you might at least have thought that he could rely on the support of the state on his release,’ Newby said.

After 17 years in prison for a crime he did not commit, Victor Nealon spent his first night of freedom sleeping on the streets of Birmingham. His claim for compensation has been refused under the new Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, whereby eligibility is restricted only to those who can demonstrate their innocence ‘beyond reasonable doubt’—an approach branded by Newby as ‘a pure ideological intention to stop those wrongfully convicted being compensated at all costs’.

Newby went on to address a number of other issues, including the systemic attacks on legal aid, delays in referring cases, and the investigations into historic sex abuse claims, and highlighted the need for greater transparency and recognition of error: ‘If we truly believe in justice, we shall have to learn how to say sorry and put right our errors.’

In his career, Newby has been successful at putting right a number of wrongful convictions; however, he fears for the future, where ‘the pool of good miscarriage of justice lawyers is rapidly diminishing [as a result of legal aid cuts] at a time when conversely the number of miscarriages are increasing’.

In closing, Newby made what amounted to a rallying cry to the legal community: ‘We should not fight against compensating men such as Victor Nealon, Sam Hallam and Ian Lawless; we should embrace the opportunity to do so. We should embrace our failures—they are the road to success and better organisations.’

‘Perhaps we are coming close now to a time when the cracks can no longer be papered over. Where the efforts to block justice have become so perverse that they will soon no longer be sustainable. The next few years will determine what sort of society we want to be.’
Mark Newby

Profile photo of Lucie Boase About Lucie Boase
Lucie is a law student and occasional writer living in Bristol. She intends to work in social welfare law when she qualifies

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1 Comment

  • trevor December 15, 2015 6:37 pm

    I continue to believe that one of the worst things about the Justice system is that it is arranged in such a way that only the wealthy gain access
    while the poor are often left in want and distress.
    and this is made worse by a deliberate reluctance on the part of the government to change things so that the Justice system serves everyone fairly regardless of social and financial status.
    almost 4 months ago I was accused of shoplifting and immediately banned from entering the store.
    this was done without the proper procedure being followed…i.e…witness the suspect actually concealing shop property and attempting to leave the store without making any payment.
    when I complained to customer services I was told it would take up to two weeks for an investigation to be carried out.
    but by the end of the week(the incident occurred on a Monday morning)
    I received a letter informing me that I had been banned and that the case had been closed…good bye.
    remember I had not been searched in order to prove that the accusation was sound.
    I was simply stopped in my tracks and told point blank that I am a shoplifter and I had to leave the store otherwise the police would be called.
    now I suffer from nervous anxiety and so the shock of of being accused of shoplifting (despite the fact that I had been a regular honest and loyal customer for years)brought on a severe fit in which I lost control of my body and was trembling from head to toe.
    I was severely distressed and not a single person came to my assistance even though there were many people who witnessed the incident.
    I left the store totally humiliated and deeply upset and to this day I still feel wounded by the way I was treated and by the way the Justice system was unwilling to help me get the justice I deserve.
    instead I was told that I needed to pay a considerable amount of money in order to bring the store owner to court and even then there was no guarantee that I would get any justice even though I know I am 100% innocent of the lies that were put against me.
    so when people say they were let down by the justice system I tend to sympathize with them
    especially now that I have experience of being let down simply cause of my financial status.

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