Miscarriage of justice: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A miscarriage of justice primarily is the conviction and punishment of a person for a crime they did not commit. The term can also apply to errors in the other direction—"errors of impunity", and to civil case. Most criminal justice systems have some means to overturn, or "quash", a wrongful conviction, but this is often difficult to achieve. The most serious instances occur when a wrongful conviction is not overturned for several years, or until after the innocent person has been executed or died in jail.

"Miscarriage of justice" is sometimes synonymous with wrongful conviction, referring to a conviction reached in an unfair or disputed trial. Wrongful convictions are frequently cited by death penalty opponents as cause to eliminate death penalties to avoid executing innocent persons. In recent years, DNA evidence has been used to clear many people falsely convicted.

Scandinavian languages have a word, the Norwegian variant of which is justismord, which literally translates as "justice murder." The term exists in several languages and was originally used for cases where the accused was convicted, executed, and later cleared after death. With capital punishment decreasing, the expression has acquired an extended meaning, namely any conviction for a crime not committed by the convicted. The retention of the term "murder" represents both universal abhorrence against wrongful convictions and awareness of how destructive wrongful convictions are.

Also, the term travesty of justice is sometimes used for a gross, deliberate miscarriage of justice. The usage of the term in a specific case is, however, inherently biased due to different opinions about the case. Show trials (not in the sense of high publicity, but in the sense of lack of regard to the actual legal procedure and fairness), due to their character, often lead to such travesties.


General issues

Causes of miscarriages of justice include:

  • Plea bargains that offer incentives for the innocent to plead guilty
  • Confirmation bias on the part of investigators
  • Withholding or destruction of evidence by police or prosecution
  • fabrication of evidence or outright perjury by police (see testilying), or prosecution witnesses (e.g. Dr Charles Smith)
  • Biased editing of evidence
  • Prejudice towards the class of people to which the defendant belongs
  • Poor identification by witnesses and/or victims
  • Overestimation/underestimation of the evidential value of expert testimony
  • Contaminated evidence
  • Faulty forensic tests
  • false confessions due to police pressure or psychological weakness
  • Misdirection of a jury by a judge during trial
  • perjured evidence by the real guilty party or their accomplices (frameup)
  • Perjured evidence by supposed victim or their accomplices

Risk of miscarriages of justice is one of the main arguments against the death penalty. Where condemned persons are executed promptly after conviction, the most significant effect of a miscarriage of justice is irreversible. Wrongly-executed people nevertheless occasionally receive posthumous pardons—which essentially void the conviction—or have their convictions quashed. Many death penalty states hold condemned persons for ten or more years before execution.

Even when a wrongly-convicted person is not executed, years in prison can have a substantial, irreversible effect on the person and their family. The risk of miscarriage of justice is therefore also an argument against long sentences, like life sentence, and cruel sentence conditions.

Cases in specific countries

The Netherlands

The Schiedammerpark murder case, as well as the similarly overturned case of the Putten murder, led to the installation of the "Posthumus I committee", which analyzed what had gone wrong in the Schiedammerpark Murder case, and came to the conclusion that confirmation bias led the police to ignore and misinterpret scientific evidence (DNA). Subsequently, the so-called Posthumus II committee investigated whether other such cases might have occurred. The committee received 25 applications from concerned and involved scientists, and decided to consider three of them further: the Lucia de Berk case, the Ina Post case, and the Enschede incest case. In these three cases, independent researchers (professors Wagenaar, van Koppen, Israëls, Crombag, and Derksen) claim confirmation bias and misuse of complex scientific evidence led to miscarriages of justice.


Despite Norway's international reputation, Norwegian police, courts, and prison authorities have been criticized and convicted on several occasions by the European Court of Human Rights for breaking the principle of innocent until proven guilty.

However, maximum penalty in Norway is normally no longer than 21 years. Thereby, most of the victims have been acquitted after their release from prison.


The Constitution of Spain guarantees compensation in cases of miscarriage of justice.


Saddam Hussein was hanged for crimes against humanity against his own people not for chemical, nuclear or biological weapons that he was suspected of having. He was tried by the state of Iraq not by the United States of America. Regardless of why the United States entered Iraq Saddam Hussein committed these offenses prior to any intervention by the U.S. and the below bias comments have nothing to do with capital punishment an or miscarriage of justice.

Agenda Bias Opinion Not Factual Below

United States invaded Iraq, with the stated reason that Iraq had failed to abandon its nuclear and chemical weapons development program. The United States further justified the invasion by claiming that Iraq had or was developing weapons of mass destruction which was proven to be false allegation and stating a desire to remove an oppressive dictator -according to their point of view- from power and forcing Iraq to the democracy.

Saddam was captured on December 13, 2003. He remained in custody by US forces at Camp Cropper in Baghdad, along with eleven senior Ba'athist officials. On 5 November 2006, Saddam Hussein was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to death by hanging. The trial was viewed in most quarters as a kangaroo court or show trial. Amnesty International stated that the trial was "it was especially egregious when this ultimate punishment is imposed after an unfair trial." and Human Rights Watch noted that Saddam's execution "follows a flawed trial and marks a significant step away from the rule of law in Iraq.

On November 5, 2006, Saddam was sentenced to death by hanging. On December 26, Saddam's appeal was rejected and the death sentence upheld. No further appeals were taken and Saddam was ordered executed within 30 days of that date.

On December 30, 2006, he was taken to dummy to be executed. The Iraqi government released an official videotape of his execution, showing him being led to the gallows, and ending after his head was in the hangman's noose. International public controversy arose when an unauthorized cell phone recording of the hanging showed him falling through the trap door of the gallows. The audio, which was not in the official video, revealed taunts between Saddam and the executioners, many of whom were strong supporters of Muqtada Al-Sadr, an Iraqi political leader and militia commander who is a strong opponent of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the succeeding (and current) Shiite dominated Iraqi government and the overall idea of the presence of the United States in Iraq. The unprofessional and undignified atmosphere of the execution drew criticism around the world from nations.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom a jailed person whose conviction is quashed may be paid compensation for the time they were incarcerated.

England, Wales and Northern Ireland

Until 2005, the parole system assumed all convicted persons were guilty, and poorly handled those who were not. To be paroled, a convicted person had to sign a document in which, among other things, they confessed to the crime for which they were convicted. Someone who refused to sign this declaration spent longer in jail than someone who signed it. Some wrongly convicted people, such as the Birmingham Six, were refused parole for this reason. In 2005 the system changed, and began to parole prisoners who never admitted guilt.

English law has no official means of correcting a "perverse" verdict (conviction of a defendant on the basis of insufficient evidence). Appeals are based exclusively on new evidence or errors by the judge or prosecution (but not the defense), or jury irregularities. A reversal occurred, however, in the 1930s when William Herbert Wallace was exonerated of the murder of his wife. There is no right to a trial without jury (except during the troubles in Northern Ireland when a judge or judges presided without a jury).

During the early 1990s, a series of high-profile cases turned out to be miscarriages of justice. Many resulted from police fabricating evidence to convict people they thought were guilty, or simply to get a high conviction rate. The West Midlands Serious Crime Squad became notorious for such practices, and was disbanded in 1989. In 1997 the Criminal Cases Review Commission[1] was established specifically to examine possible miscarriages of justice. However, it still requires either strong new evidence of innocence, or new proof of a legal error by the judge or prosecution. For example, merely insisting you are innocent and the jury made an error, or stating there was not enough evidence to prove guilt, is not enough. It is not possible to question the jury's decision or query on what matters it was based. The waiting list for cases to be considered for review is at least two years on average.


The Criminal Appeal (Scotland) Act 1927 increased the jurisdicion of the Scottish Court of Criminal Appeal following the miscarriage of justice surrounding the Trial of Oscar Slater.

Reflecting Scotland's own legal system, which differs from that of the rest of the United Kingdom, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) was established in April 1999. All cases accepted by the SCCRC are subjected to a robust and thoroughly impartial review before a decision on whether or not to refer to the High Court of Justiciary is taken.

See also


  1. ^ "Criminal Cases Review Commission". Ccrc.gov.uk. http://www.ccrc.gov.uk. Retrieved 2009-03-18. 

External links

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