HC Deb 22 November 1956 vol 560 cc98-9W
43. Mr. Hector Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department to state the principles on which he awards or refuses compensation to persons wrongly prosecuted for criminal offences, found not guilty and acquitted.

Major Lloyd-George

In our law a person is presumed to be innocent until he is found guilty by a competent court. It unfortunately happens from time to time that there appears to be evidence sufficient to justify the prosecution and even committal for trial of a person against whom the prosecution, on whom the onus lies, fail in the event to prove the charge. The law imposes no obligation on the Executive to pay compensation in such cases. It would be out of the question to pay compensation in all cases. On the other hand, it would be wrong for the Executive to attempt to usurp judicial functions and to makeex gratia payments in selected cases on the basis of views formed by the Executive as to the moral guilt or innocence of the accused person. Moreover, although it is recognised that anxiety and hardship may have been caused to the person concerned, it does not follow that anyone acted wrongly in bringing him to trial. Accordingly, in such cases it has never been the policy to make ex gratia payments.

Different considerations arise where the prosecution or committal for trial of an innocent person arises from negligence or misconduct on the part of the police or other public officials. Where in such cases hardship has been caused, although Her Majesty's Government do not accept legal liability, the practice is to make an ex gratia payment in recognition of the hardship that the individual has suffered as the result of some failure on the part of a public official.

Quite apart from any question of an ex gratia payment, the courts, as the hon. and learned Member knows, have power under the Costs in Criminal Cases Act, 1952, to award the defendant who is acquitted the cost of his defence in suitable cases.