East London Lines pays special tribute and respect to the people of Hoxton, East London who successfully campaigned for the overturning of Sam Hallam’s murder conviction and helped gain his release from prison Wednesday this week.
To every individual who signed any petition, attended and supported any of the imaginative cultural and campaigning events held across the area, and who joined with the voices who knew that Sam was innocent, well done.
Your efforts have strengthened our democracy and put humanity and fairness back into our failing criminal justice system.
It was done with time, effort, faith, commitment and so little money. These are the riches of community activism.
Sam Hallam has paid a price that is incalculable. He has lost his youth, all the potential of education, training and early career and that wonderful hope and horizon of late teens and early twenties optimism that is the privilege of youth.
The disorientation of his present position, joy at release but sadness and pain at what he has had to go through, is evident in the interview recorded by the BBC in Carey Street, behind the Royal Courts of Justice.
He spent these years in the dystopian nightmare of our overcrowded prison system. His mother Wendy and father Terry and the rest of his family went through an experience that no one would wish on their worst enemies. And Terry died tragically 15 months ago in despair at the injustice done to his son.
Sam had 2 mobile phones containing images of his family that if examined for his Old Bailey trial in 2005 would have supported his assertion that he was nowhere near the scene of the beating up of trainee chef Essayas Kassahun.
Appeal Court judge Lady Justice Hallett said in her ruling that Sam’s failure to remember where he was and what he was doing accurately on that fateful day was due to “faulty recollection and a dysfunctional lifestyle, not a deliberate lie.”
Sam, his family and supporters are perfectly entitled to say that the only thing dysfunctional about this sorry affair is the criminal justice system.
Could you accurately recall exactly what you were doing last Wednesday say at 7.30 p.m. when you are in a police cell, arrested for a murder you did not commit, advised by a solicitor to say no comment? What about Wednesday last month? Or Wednesday 6 months ago?
The all surveillant digital trail of modern communications, while Big Brotherish, in their potential to triangulate our everyday behaviour, are now available and should be used to exonerate and protect us from wrongful accusation and arrest.
But those three Appeal Court judges sitting on high in the mock gothic splendour of the Royal Courts of Justice should be quick, along with other members of the judiciary, legislature and executive, to reflect on just how dysfunctional our system of justice is becoming.
The legal profession and system reflects a society as class-ridden and unequal as it was before the Second World War.
Hundreds of law graduates in this country leave university without the hope of gaining professional status and qualification. You need between £10,000 and £15,000 to pay the fees for a year of solicitor or barrister education leading to professional qualification. And then you have to fight for the dwindling paid pupillages and legal training contracts that will turn you into practising lawyers.
Law centres and legal aid practices have been shut down. Magistrates courts and local police stations are being closed. The centralisation of resources is deracinating our local infrastructure of the expertise and service needed to protect young people such as Sam Hallam.
Not one of the main political parties has any policy recommending root and branch accessibility for justice. There are hundreds of young people in this country willing and able to perform the role of qualified “street law” attorneys with modest salaries equivalent to those of teachers.
The legal world seems to be dominated by a repugnant ‘goody bag’ culture of barristers’ chambers that look more like the lush offices of Los Angeles Hollywood agents, salaries in city law firms that compete with the discredited and hated bankers’ bonuses.
The hard-working and surviving economically “modest” communities of London such as Hoxton, that you find in all of the East London Lines boroughs, are always ready to welcome “prono bono” legalling from young lawyers or even the established and successful ones on their “days off.”
But these communities want long-term structured legal professionalism and public defenders that can protect them from the injustice experienced by Sam Hallam. It is not enough that the Criminal Cases Review Commission takes 7 years to right the wrong, via the Thames Valley Police and then a second Court of Appeal hearing.
Understandably the Sam Hallam campaign have raw feelings towards the Metropolitan Police.
But all credit to Commander Simon Foy for issuing an immediate statement of deep regret that Sam has lost all these years of liberty for a murder conviction that is so manifestly “unsafe.” The Metropolitan Police recognises that it has lessons to learn.
Let’s hope the judiciary, and the rest of our legal and political establishment are prepared to learn these lessons as well. Our society cannot afford to condemn young people such as Sam Hallam to the hell that he has been through and he did not deserve.