When summing up any case to a jury, one of the first things a judge has to explain is that although it is for the jury to decide the facts of the case, they must follow the judge’s directions of law. A favourite cliché of many is then to say “if I am wrong on the law a higher court will put it right.”
“Phew,” the jurors are meant to think, “we can trust that even if this old fool has got the law wrong, no harm will come of it because that ‘higher court’ will make everything right again.”
Victor Nealon and Sam Hallam learnt last week from the Supreme Court what they must have guessed already: the promise that a higher court will put wrongful convictions right is hollow. And although there is statutory provision for the state to atone with compensation for subjecting innocent people to wrongful convictions and imprisonment, it is worded in such a way that compensation can virtually never be paid. It is a bogus, Potemkin provision of no practical effect.