The welcome news that the Court of Appeal has quashed the conviction of Sam Hallam after a determined campaign by family, friends and supporters brings with it some sobering reminders. At the age of 17, Mr Hallam had been convicted in 2005 of the murder of Essayas Kassahun. He had unsuccessfully appealed and his case had been referred back to the court by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC).
The CCRC had instigated an investigation by an outside police force into the original police investigation and prosecution and found that prior to the trial there had been no proper investigation into Mr Hallam’s alibi.
Initially the prosecution stated to the Court of Appeal that their intention was to oppose the appeal, dramatically indicating halfway through the first day that they had changed their position. Mr Hallam was granted bail and his conviction quashed the following day.
In opening the appeal on behalf of his client, Henry Blaxland QC unequivocally described him as being the victim of a miscarriage of justice and at the age of 17 Mr Hallam was undoubtedly the youngest victim of such grave miscarriage. Considered alongside other cases it demonstrates that anyone, regardless of age, gender or race can find themselves, inexplicably, wrongly accused and convicted of very serious offences.
During the eight years that Mr Hallam spent in custody he had continued to protest his innocence. Had he admitted his guilt he would have been prepared for his eventual release at the appropriate stage in his sentence but he found himself in a situation where he went to court in the morning considered by the Crown a properly convicted murderer but left it in the afternoon a free man.
During the years leading to his eventual release his father, sadly, had committed suicide and, as he said in subsequent interviews, Mr Hallam has lost eight years of his life that he will never recover. We know from experience of other such cases that he will find it extremely difficult to make the adjustment to life as a free man notwithstanding the support he has.
At the recent conference held by the Criminal Appeal Lawyers Association, the distinguished psychiatrist Dr Adrian Grounds described the trauma experienced by the wrongly convicted and the damage that can be done. Notwithstanding the happy and relieved faces outside the Court of Appeal the quashing of the conviction is rarely the happy ending of the story and more often simply the ending of one chapter.
Mr Hallam and his family deserve public help and support as he faces the next challenge and it is to be hoped that he will quickly receive proper compensation which will ensure that the appropriate counselling and therapeutic help is available to him.
Through our membership of the Criminal Appeal Lawyers Association we at Stephensons will be supporting the campaign for a fairer and more adequate system of compensation for genuine victims of a miscarriage of justice.
By criminal appeals consultant, Campbell Malone