Westminster Commission on Miscarriages of Justice – launch event

The APPG on Miscarriages of Justice is hosting a Zoom launch event on Thursday 18 March, 17.30-18.30, for discussion of the Westminster Commission’s report on the wrongful conviction watchdog the Criminal Cases Review Commission, ‘In the Interests of Justice’ report on the Criminal Cases Review Commission as it looks to grow support for the inquiry’s recommendations.

The event will feature discussion from APPG members and the inquiry’s Commissioners, before hearing from an exoneree on the experience of being wrongly convicted, and feature a panel discussion from across the justice sector of the report’s consequences. The panel is set to include Helen Pitcher, Chairman of the CCRC; Dr Hannah Quirk, King’s College London and the Inner Temple, a leading academic in the field of wrongful convictions; and David Rose, an investigative journalist with considerable experience on miscarriages of justice. A Q&A will end the session.

RSVP at: https://parliament-uk.zoom.us/meeting/register/u50tdu6qrj4tEtKAAh3HTd1andeIhbmzJ1_l.

Strong participation among MPs is vital if the report is to reach its full potential of change to benefit the victims of wrongful convictions. Write to your MP and convince them to take miscarriages of justice seriously using the template for an email available here.

Although there will be a chat feature to ask questions during the event, you are encouraged to send any questions in advance to alex@appeal.org.uk to increase the chances of them being covered.

Westminster Commission publishes results of CCRC inquiry

The Westminster Commission on Miscarriages of Justice today launches its report into the work of the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), In the Interests of Justice. The Westminster Commission was set up in 2019 by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Miscarriages of Justice to respond to widespread concern about the low, and recently declining, number of cases referred to the Court of Appeal within a criminal justice system already under immense strain.

The Westminster Commission received evidence from practitioners, academics and those who have experienced the criminal justice system as lawyers, witnesses and defendants, including those who felt they had been denied justice.

The report concluded that the CCRC is a much-needed public body but it needs to change.

The ‘real possibility test’ must go

At present, the CCRC can refer cases for review only where it considers there is a ‘real possibility’ that the Court of Appeal will overturn the conviction or sentence. The report considers that the predictive nature of this test has encouraged the CCRC to be too deferential to the Court of Appeal. It considers that the test acts as a brake on the CCRC’s freedom of decision and recommends that there should be a more objective test: that the CCRC is to refer a case if it considers the conviction may be unsafe, the sentence may be manifestly excessive or wrong in law, or that it is in the interests of justice to make a referral. This would encourage a different and more independent mind set in the CCRC.

Investigation needs improvement

Although the CCRC has carried out some excellent investigative work, budget constraints, an increased caseload, as well as a target-driven culture valuing speed over thoroughness, mean that applicants may spend further unnecessary time in prison.

The report calls for increased resources for the CCRC and for publicly funded representation, and recommends changes to allow the body to get evidence from public bodies more quickly.

Structure needs strengthening

Government-imposed changes have diminished the role of the CCRC’s leadership and decision makers and undermined the spirit and purpose of its founding legislation. The report recommends the strengthening of key roles within theorganisation and calls for the reinstatement of safeguards which allow for confident, independent decision-makers and the CCRC to do the job that Parliament intended for it.

Lord Garnier QC, Co-Chair of the Westminster Commission on Miscarriages of Justice and former Solicitor General, commented:

“The Criminal Cases Review Commission is a vital part of our criminal justice system and has achieved a great deal that is admirable. As the last hope for the unjustly convicted, it must remain alert to the need to be properly equipped to deal with wrongful convictions.

We believe our recommendations would lead to an improvement in the CCRC’s investigatory work, prevent it from being too wary of the Court of Appeal, and allow it to maintain its independence.”

Baroness Stern CBE, Co-Chair of the Westminster Commission on Miscarriages of Justice, said:

“The weight of the evidence we have considered leads us to conclude that, although there is much to praise in the work of the CCRC, there is room for improvement. We hope our report will assist the Commission to fulfil its original statutory remit – that is certainly our intention.”

The report, In the Interests of Justice, is available in full here.

Westminster Hall Debate on the Decision-Making Powers of the CCRC

On 17th July 2019, Parliamentarians took part in a Westminster Hall debate on the decision making powers of the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC). The debate was secured by Labour MP for Ipswich, Sandy Martin.

 

 

Sandy Martin began by describing in detail the case of a man named Oliver Campbell. Oliver was convicted of murder in 1991 and served 11 years in prison. He was described as having a “low IQ”. Sandy Martin described a large amount of evidence which strongly suggested Oliver was innocent and wrongly convicted. Two years after he was released, CCRC concluded that  there was no new information and therefore no reason to open a new appeal. CCRC allegedly ignored reports made by two psychologists, proving that Oliver was “intellectually challenged”. Martin believes that Oliver was not treated fairly or appropriately by the criminal justice system, taking into account his disability. Martin hopes to submit the details of Oliver’s case to Westminster as evidence. He urged the Minister to write to CCRC, asking them to rethink their decision on Oliver’s situation. According to Martin,  many describe Oliver’s case as the “Clearest example of a Miscarriage of Justice that they have seen”.

Martin believes that CCRC needs a “Radical change in the way they deal with appeals”. He also stated that any criminal justice system that doesn’t provide all the evidence found to both sides prevents the correct decision from being reached. He described the “subordinate relationship” between the CCRC and the Court of Appeal. He questioned how The CCRC decides which cases to take up and requested that the minister institute a review of the decision making powers of the CCRC.

 

Edward Argar was the responding minister. He said that the CCRC plays a vital and valuable role in retaining the confidence of the criminal justice system. He mentioned the report of CCRC released in February. He said that it had included many recommendations and also highlighted that “too many cases took too long to resolve”. In response to Oliver Campbell’s case, Argar stated that CCRC would welcome an application to review the case. If that failed, he suggested that they could reply for a judicial review.

Sandy WHD

Barry Sheerman made several interventions. He described the CCRC as “under resourced” and also suggested that the staff work “part time” and “from home”. Argar responded, saying that this allows “flexibility” and allows the “most effective management of the case”  He also raised the issue that people whose jail time is reduced by the CCRC get none of the support when they are released offered to those who are guilty and serve their full sentence. Finally, he also suggested that “Senior judges don’t like this system (CCRC)” to which Argar responded that senior judicial figures “Very much support the work of the CCRC.”

The CCRC have responded to the debate, stating that the Commission looked in great depth at Mr Campbell’s case when reviewing it. The CCRC went on to encourage Mr Campbell and his representatives to publish the detailed document which gives detailed reasons why they could not refer the case for appeal, as “unfortunately the law prohibits the CCRC from publishing the document”.

The full transcript from the Westminster Hall debate can be found here.

THE JUSTICE TRAP: How the Cash-Strapped Miscarriages of Justice Watchdog is No Longer Independent or Doing Its Job‘ – Jon Robins on the Westminster Hall Debate