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Compensation for wrongfully convicted prisoners focus of new AIC paper

Media Release

21 May 2008

Wrongfully convicted people may not be consistently compensated by Australian jurisdictions, according to a new research paper released today from the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC).

The paper, Compensation for wrongful conviction, is the latest in the AIC's Trends & issues in criminal justice series and examines the causes and effects of wrongful imprisonment, the prevalence of wrongful conviction, and the applicability of international approaches and conventions.

"There is no reliable data on the prevalence of wrongful convictions. In the United States it has been estimated that between 0.5 and five percent of prisoners have been wrongfully convicted, while in the United Kingdom it has suggested that the rate of wrongful conviction may be as high as 0.1 percent of all criminal cases," said Dr Judy Putt, General Manager of Research at the AIC. "Causes vary and may be due to such factors as false confession or eyewitness error. The impact of wrongful conviction and subsequent imprisonment can be severe, including substantial psychiatric and emotional effects."

In all Australian states and territories (except the Australian Capital Territory) individuals wrongfully convicted and imprisoned do not have a common law or statutory right to compensation. Instead, state or territory governments may choose to make an ex gratia payment either of its own accord or as a result of a request by a party for such a payment.

According to the paper, this arrangement lacks transparency and compensation payments are somewhat arbitrary in terms of when compensation will be offered and how it will be quantified. Factors that seem to influence the amount of compensation paid include duration of imprisonment or evidence of official negligence, whilst the presence of prior criminality may reduce the chance and/or size of payment.

"The research paper suggests that it would be preferable for each Australian state and territory to enact legal provision for compensation for wrongful conviction, or draft specific guidelines for the award of compensation to wrongfully convicted people," Dr Putt said. "This would bring Australia into line with human rights best practice and give some consistency and transparency to the process of awarding compensation for wrongful conviction."

AIC media contact: Barbara Walsh, Tel: 02.6260 9244; m: 0409 985 600