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News Archives: Index

October 7, 2010: Probation Set For Industrial Action

October 5, 2010: Turning Prisoners Into Taxpayers

October 4, 2010: Murder Changes Now In Force

September 20, 2010: Probation Programmes Face Cuts

August 24, 2010: Victorian Poor Law Records Online

August 10, 2010: Justice Job Cuts

July 28, 2010: Prison Violence Growing

July 22, 2010: Police Numbers: Latest Figures

July 22, 2010: New Jurisdiction Rules

July 16, 2010: CCJS On Prison And Probation Spending Under Labour

July 15, 2010: Latest Statistics On Violent And Sexual Crime

July 15, 2010: Latest National Crime Figures

July 15, 2010: New Chief Prisons Inspector

July 14, 2010: Hard Times Ahead For Prisons: Anne Owers

July 14, 2010: Prison Does Not Work: Ken Clarke

July 13, 2010: Criminal Justice Reform: Sentencing and Rehabilitation

July 13, 2010: Criminal Justice Reform Priorities

July 12, 2010: What Price Public Protection, Asks Probation Chief Inspector

July 12, 2010: NOMS has failed, says Napo

July 10, 2010: IPCC To Investigate Death of Raoul Moat

July 9, 2010: Women In Prison: New Report

July 9, 2009: Unjust Deserts: Imprisonment for Public Protection

July 8, 2010: Police Search Powers Change

July 7, 2010: Make 'Legal High' Illegal, Says ACMD

July 2, 2010: Failing Children In Prison

July 2, 2010: Police Buried Under a Blizzard of Guidance: HMIC

July 1, 2010: Freedom To Change The Law?

June 30, 2010: A New Outlook On Penal Reform?

June 30, 2010: Revolving Door Of Offending Must Stop, Says Clarke

June 30, 2010: Ken Clarke: Speech on Criminal Justice Reform

June 29, 2010: No More Police Targets

June 26, 2010: Family Intervention Projects Questioned

June 25, 2010: Cutting Criminal Justice

June 24, 2010: Napo on Sex Offenders Report

June 23, 2010: Closing Courts: The Cuts Begin

June 23, 2010: Strategy To Tackle Gangs

June 15, 2010: Courts and Mentally Disordered Offenders

June 8, 2010: Working With Muslims in Prison

June 1, 2010: Your Chance To Nominate a QC

September 9, 2009: Justice Secretary on Michael Shields Case

Justice Secretary Jack Straw has made the following statement about issuing a pardon for Michael Shields, the football fan who was convicted of attempted murder by a court in Bulgaria. His family had undertaken a long campaign for his release.

"In July 2005 Michael Shields was convicted in Bulgaria of the attempted murder of a Bulgarian national called Martin Georgiev. Mr Shields and other football supporters had been in the Bulgarian resort of Varna when violence flared in the early hours of 30 May. Mr Shields was sentenced to 15 years, reduced to 10 on appeal. In 2006 he was returned to England to complete his sentence here. He applied for a free pardon under the Royal Prerogative of mercy."

"However, it had been the longstanding practice, on an equally longstanding legal interpretation of the Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons, that the 'receiving state' had to respect the decisions of the sentencing state, so the application was not initially entertained. This approach was challenged in a judicial review and on 17 December the Administrative Court declared that I should consider the application and said, 'the grant of a free pardon would appear to require a conclusion that, taking the Bulgarian courts' judgment for what it is and without calling in question its correctness on the material which those courts considered, fresh evidence which the Bulgarian court did not consider, taken with the material which they did consider and their judgment upon it, justifies a conclusion that Michael Shields is morally and technically innocent."

"On 2 July, following very careful consideration of all the evidence that was then available, I made a provisional decision to refuse Michael Shields' application for a free pardon. This was however as I said, provisional. I made clear at the time that I would consider further representations before I made a final decision on his application. My office also contacted Mr Shields' parents to offer them a meeting should they wish to discuss their son's case with me. They said that they would like to. It took place at Blackburn Town Hall on Friday 28 August. Further representations were received from Mr Shields' legal team and from Fair Trials Abroad later in July. I considered those representations with great care."

"I have said before that I have spent more time on this case than on any other, during and since my time as Foreign Secretary. I am well aware of the very strong feelings many people have about the safety of Mr Shields' conviction, and over the months I met several of Mr Shields' supporters. But as I explained I had to apply myself to the evidence available and set that against the test established by the administrative Court. I have been assisted in considering Mr Shields' application by Merseyside Police and by one of the country's leading criminal barristers, Mr David Perry QC. I am very grateful for their assistance. The decision itself was not one I could delegate. It had to be mine."

"My consideration of the further representations did not, however, persuade me that my 2 July provisional decision was wrong. It was clear to me that I had still not been provided with enough evidence to meet the very high test of 'moral and technical innocence'."

"However, during the meeting on 28 August with Mr Shields' parents, important new evidence came to light which, when looked at alongside all the previously available evidence, has now satisfied me that Mr Shields meets the high test set by the Court."

"At this meeting, following a series of questions which I put to the family, I was told for the first time about a visit by two members of the Shields family to the home of a man alleged to be responsible for the crime for which Michael Shields was jailed. I was told that in the course of the visit that man made an oral confession to the crime in front of several other people. This episode, I was told, happened on 22 July 2005, a day after the start of Mr Shields' trial in Bulgaria."

"Since the 28 August meeting in my constituency further inquiries, including by the Merseyside Police, have been made at my request into the events of 22 July 2005. I will not set out in this statement all the evidence that has come to light over the last two weeks but suffice it to say that there is very good reason to believe I was being told the truth. This in my view profoundly changed the credibility of the various accounts of what actually happened in this case."

"Whether or not this new evidence would have been admissible at Mr Shields' trial in Bulgaria, it is highly relevant to my consideration of Mr Shields' application for a pardon."

"No reference to the events which took place on 22 July 2005 was contained in any of the formal written representations I received either before or after I made my provisional decision on 2 July. Mr Shields' current solicitors have told us that they did not know about them, and their potential significance had not been fully appreciated by those who had been made aware of them."

"It is clear that the victim in this case, Mr Martin Georgiev, was subjected to a brutal and vicious attack. It is not for me to say who was responsible for this disgraceful assault. That is a matter for the criminal courts in Bulgaria. The new evidence which has emerged from the meeting with Mr Shields' parents and from Merseyside Police's subsequent inquiries has been passed to the Bulgarian authorities by the British Ambassador in Sofia."

"My decision does not amount to a criticism of the Bulgarian courts' judgment in this case. I have seen evidence that they did not."

"In assessing this difficult case I was tasked, as I have already mentioned, by the Administrative Court in December 2008 to determine whether having considered any fresh evidence which the Bulgarian courts did not consider, alongside that which they did, it would be justifiable to conclude that Michael Shields is morally and technically innocent."

"I have concluded, having looked carefully at all the evidence now available, that Michael Shields is telling the truth when he says he is innocent of the attempted murder of which he was convicted in Bulgaria. That being so I have recommended to Her Majesty the Queen that he should be granted a free pardon. Mr Shields is being released from prison today and will return home to his family a free man."

"I have spent a great deal of time on this case, both before the Administrative Court hearing in December last year and subsequently. I felt it was of critical importance that my consideration of Mr Shields' application was full, thorough and above all demonstrably fair. Indeed, it is the thoroughness and fairness of the process, particularly giving Mr Shields' family the opportunity to talk to me face to face before I made my final decision, which enabled the new evidence to come to light."

"I add this as a postscript, one issue that has emerged from this case is the appropriateness or otherwise of the Justice Secretary, rather than a court, exercising this power over a prisoner's liberty involving finding of fact in an alleged miscarriages of justice, particularly in relation to cases from abroad. I am clear, even with expert advice, that a quasi-judicial role such as this is not a suitable function for the Executive. I shall therefore be exploring alternative options for dealing with any future cases which arise."

"For now I wish Mr Shields and his family well."