Regina v Foster: CA 29 Mar 1984

The effect of a free pardon was to remove from the subject of the pardon ‘all pains, penalties and punishments whatsoever that from the said conviction may ensue’, but not to eliminate the conviction itself.
Watkins LJ said: ‘constitutionally the Crown no longer has a prerogative of justice, but only a prerogative of mercy. It cannot, therefore, he submits, remove a conviction but only pardon its effects. The Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) is the only body which has statutory power to quash a conviction. With that we entirely agree.’
and ‘We understand the strength of the argument that, despite the fact that a free pardon does not eliminate the conviction, a grant of a free pardon should be reserved for cases where it can be established that the convicted person was morally and technically innocent. Furthermore, the policy of confining the grant of a free pardon to such cases has been followed by successive Secretaries of State for over a century. We therefore propose to set aside any question of a free (or full) pardon and look at the matter afresh.’
and ‘These questions, therefore, arise. (a) Is there any objection in principle to the grant of a posthumous conditional pardon? (b) Was the Home Secretary in error in failing to consider the grant of a conditional pardon in this case?
On the first question it may be objected that a conditional pardon is inappropriate where the full penalty has already been paid. The answer to this objection, however, is that it is an error to regard the prerogative of mercy as a prerogative right which is only exercisable in cases which fall into specific categories. The prerogative is a flexible power and its exercise can and should be adapted to meet the circumstances of the particular case. We would adopt the language used by the Court of Appeal in New Zealand in Burt v. Governor-General [1992] 3 N.Z.L.R. 672, 681: ‘the prerogative of mercy [can no longer be regarded as] no more than an arbitrary monarchical right of grace and favour.’ It is now a constitutional safeguard against mistakes. It follows, therefore, that, in our view, there is no objection in principle to the grant of a posthumous conditional pardon where a death sentence has already been carried out. The grant of such a pardon is a recognition by the state that a mistake was made and that a reprieve should have been granted.’


Watkins LJ


(1984) 79 Cr App R 61


England and Wales

Cited by:

CitedShields, Regina (on the Application of) v Secretary of State for Justice Admn 17-Dec-2008
The claimant had been convicted in Bulgaria of attempted murder. He had denied it, and somebody later confessed to the crime, but that confession had not been admitted. Having been transferred to England to complete his sentence, he now asked for a . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Criminal Practice

Updated: 10 May 2022; Ref: scu.279914