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CCRC criticised as Justice Committee Calls for review on Conviction Cases

The Justice Committee has today published its striking report into the failings of the CCRC and the approach of both the Commission and the Court of Appeal to miscarriages of justice . The Committee has called for a review by the Law Commission into the grounds for quashing a conviction and if change is recommended by implication the CCRC test for referral .

The Committee received extensive evidence as well as hearing oral evidence from a number of Lawyers , academics , ministers and the CCRC . Mark Newby from QualitySolicitors Jordans was one of those giving evidence .

There has been for a considerable time a significant difference of opinion between many seasoned lawyers and campaigners over the adequacey of the CCRC and the CCRC's own view that it was meeting all of its targets . That difference of opinion has now been significantly answered following a detailed review by the Justice Committee . 

The Committee , whilst recognising the good work that the Commission can do and the need for the Commission to remain in existence , identified significant failings and notably that serious questions arose over its relationship with the Court of Appeal . 

It is of course right to record that there remains a considerable difference of opinion over the adequacey of the reasonable possibility test , but there was less difference on the issue of the approach of the Court of Appeal and that the current test is not addressing significant miscarriage cases . 

The Committee recognised that the Commisison was simply not being bold enough in its referrals and it should not fear disagreement or being rebuked by the Court of Appeal noting that : 

"If a bolder approach leads to 5 more failed appeals but one additional miscarriage being corrected , then that is of clear benefit " 

Because of the relationship between the CCRC and the Court of Appeal ,  in which the Court holds all the cards ,  it was the Committees view that a statutory change is required to ensure that serious miscarriage cases are addressed . The Law Commission should carefully consider this and determine what changes are required . If change is required then this may lead obviously to a change to the CCRC test for referral . 

Other important reccomendations were made including granting the CCRC  the budget it needs and enacting the long sort after Section 17 Powers to obtain private documents . It is also properly suggested that consideraiton might be given to enforcing a time limit on public bodies for responding to disclosure requests . 

Many suggested that there had been a disproportionate concentration on magistrate cases and sentence only cases at the expense of reviewing serious cases . As a result the Government is invited to look at whether the CCRC should be given a discretion to decline to investigate such cases . 

The CCRC were rightly criticised for apparent inconsistency in review and the point made by Mark Newby over an overly reactive approach to reviews is noted : 

" Applicants , in particular when they make their own applications , will submit a series of what they consider to be their appeal points . Many CCRC cases can be concluded by simply cross-checking those points , and we regularly find that to be the case , rather than taking a proactive stance and looking more deeply at what may be the unsafe aspects of a case that may not have occured to an appellant " 

As a result of this and other criticisms the Committee reccomended a changed approach from Case Review Managers who should fully engage with applicants including meeting with them in type 3 or 4 reviews . Further that allocation and support of Case Review managers should occur utilising their areas of proficiency and knowledge . 

In addition  the Commisison should be engaging more in terms of feeding back lessons learnt into the criminal justice system . 

We have seen therefore a serious and rigorous review of the failings in our current appeal system by the Justice Committee . The Committee's calls for action should now be heeded by the Government , the CCRC and the Law Commission . As we move into the next Parliment it will be an opportunity to restore justice and tackle the long oustanding issues of our systems continued failure to tackle serious miscarriage of justice . 

The CCRC isn't a failed experiment , we need the Commission , It is just a job half done and its now time to finish it by reforming the test for quashing convictions and the test for referring them to the Court of Appeal . 


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