November 30 2021

An open letter to the CCRC – #2

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An open letter to the CCRC – #2

Supreme court sketch (R v Jogee)


Supreme court sketch (R v Jogee), www.isobelwilliams.blogspot.co.uk

Supreme court sketch (R v Jogee), www.isobelwilliams.blogspot.co.uk

This is an open letter from Sheffield University’s Miscarriages of Justice Review Centre in response to an interview on the Justice Gap with Richard Foster, chair of the Criminal Cases Review Commission. The letter is co written by Professor Claire McGourlay; Dr Andrew Green; James Cairns (PG student manager); Chris Musgrave (PG student manager); and Elliott Booth (UG student manager).

See also an open letter from Professor Julie Price, of Cardiff Law School (An open letter to the CCRC).

Discussing university innocent projects, Richard Foster said:

‘If you think that you have a terminal illness, would you rather have your case considered by medical students in the bar on Friday night – or would you rather send it to a consultant oncologist?’


Dear Richard Foster,

We are writing this letter regarding your remarks on university Innocence Projects that were published in an interview with The Justice Gap on the 24th of March. First of all not all projects in the UK are Innocence Projects. Most projects in the UK are no longer called Innocence Projects because of the strict membership criteria of the international Innocence Network. But for the sake of this letter we will refer to them as such.

Secondly, whilst we do acknowledge that the CCRC is underfunded and overloaded with cases, we also find your remarks about the competency of Innocence Projects misjudged; based on incorrect assumptions and assertions that have the potential to undermine the work we carry out.

We will take the rest in order and we now turn to Innocence Projects as investigatory bodies and not campaign organisations.

For the purposes of clarity we first turn to your comments identifying Innocence Projects as campaign organisations. While our students have a wider interest in miscarriages of justice and students may personally support or have interests in reforming the law which often leads to wrongful convictions, we are not a campaign body.

The Miscarriages of Justice Review Centre at the University of Sheffield acts as an impartial reviewer of a client’s case, much like the CCRC. We assess cases on their own merits with no agenda other than to aim to overturn the convictions of innocent people. As has happened in the past, we will stop reviewing a case if our investigation leads us to uncover evidence suggesting a client is plainly guilty, leaving them free to continue with an application at the CCRC if they so wish.

We will next turn to you comments about ‘hangers on’.

“What doesn’t help anyone is groups ‘hanging on to a case’”.

To us it seems odd for you to have used this phrase “hanging on to a case” as though you yourself do not know the challenges of reviewing a criminal case. As you well know, Innocence Projects at universities up and down the country can do nothing but make slow progress on casework and often for reasons outside of their control. Unlike the CCRC we do not have statutory powers to request information and from time to time have to rely on our contacts with barristers or solicitors to obtain necessary documents, but this still has limitations. Beyond that, examining evidence and contacting clients is often a slow and difficult process, hindered further by awaiting feedback or information from the police and organisations such as the CPS and occasionally the CCRC.

What we do have is the help of talented students who elect to take time out of their degrees to fight injustice and educate themselves about the failings of the criminal justice system. The students allocated to our project are not randomly selected but are of a high academic capability and have a passion for the due process of law. They are the ones who rigorously pore over cases for hours while balancing a very challenging degree. Here at the University of Sheffield we believe that our duty to our client is discharged once we have covered the case thoroughly and exhausted all possible avenues and, yes, sometimes this process will take time. However, we strongly believe that it is better to have given the potentially innocent client every chance of having his/her conviction overturned than to rush through their case and pass it off when nothing of merit jumps out at a brief read over.

The work of the CCRC is to be much admired, and it is commendable that it ensures that the due process of law is respected. Indeed, under your stewardship, Richard, it has faced many of its budgetary challenges with patience and dedication to seeing its duty fulfilled. It is for the good of our society that the CCRC is successful and we appreciate that you and your colleagues work hard – often with much success – to achieve this end. However, unlike the CCRC our students are not faced with the pressure to turn costs into results. Our students work on a pro bono basis meaning that we can spend more time than the CCRC on each individual case. It is the nature of the beast that our cases should trickle into the CCRC and as such it is disheartening to hear your brazen comments about ‘hanging on’ to them. Our cases as not kept with malice or ignorance, but with care.

To suggest that we purposely ‘hang on to cases’ is a misrepresentation of our attitude to the work we do.

Now we move to the comment that surprised us the most and the one that made Professor McGourlay lost for words – that is certainly a challenge and you managed to achieve it in one sentence.

‘If you think that you have a terminal illness, would you rather have your case considered by medical students in the bar on Friday night – or would you rather send it to a consultant oncologist?’

Medical analogies in the context of legal procedure are dubious in many circumstances but this one was simply untrue. Much like a medical student would not seek to give a proper diagnosis of someone’s ills in a pub on a Friday night, nor would a law student seek to offer sound legal advice. Sure, we’ve all been there when our mate from back home asked “would I get arrested if I did so and so”, but as case workers we do not work in a bar. We meet in dedicated offices and buildings with computers, cabinets and files, and not just on Fridays. Indeed the reality is that tenacious investigation continues throughout the week often seeing students visiting clients in prison, liaising with the families of our clients, working with expert witnesses and legal practitioners, as well as hours of library based research. There is absolutely no truth in any suggestion that the work we carry out is not taken as seriously as it could be. We are diligent, rigorous and motivated in our investigations – Monday to Sunday.

There are a number of reasons why wrongfully convicted individuals prefer to come to pro-bono projects. In this country, an individual with terminal cancer need not pay a penny to receive the appropriate care they need. Unfortunately, the wrongfully convicted are not so lucky. Many are priced out of the legal sector by its prohibitive costs and while an application to the CCRC may be afforded, the fee for an expert to draft it is not. Here, we are conscious that most individuals have never had to step into a courtroom, that the layman doesn’t understand legal jargon and that an innocent man may never have previously given any thought to the criminal legal process – what law abiding person would have to? Our time is given freely and we are fortunate enough to receive close supervision from experienced directors and group leaders. For example, Dr Andrew Green at the University of Sheffield provides expert guidance on the correct way to proceed with contacting key witnesses, defendants, courts, lawyers and the Crown Prosecution Service, as well as ways of making a case to the CCRC.

We were sorry to read that such an off-hand remark. Meanwhile our students are not in the pub but are working hard to try to ensure that wrongful convictions are overturned. Many publicise blogs on miscarriages of justice, which are circulated among our members to enhance the way we carry out our work. Much of this is drawn from their experiences. For example in just the last two months we have spent three hours with our client in a secure hospital, had two students spend some evenings receiving advice from a practising lawyer, and thoroughly examined how the cases of nine clients may best be presented following the recent Jogee decision.

We have contacted forensic experts, made and organised hours of prison visits, attended seminars on how to make legal aid work pay, attended human rights and wrongful conviction conferences and in the last year we have had guest lectures from the likes of Paddy Joe Hill, Robert Brown and Martin Foran. Beyond that, a team of our students even won the Law Commission competition 2015 with a submission regarding reforming the law of joint enterprise. After all that, we like to celebrate our team successes in the pub.

When it comes to a wrongfully convicted client they deserve to sit in a proper office when they visit us and a professional team should we have to visit them in prison. We know we owe them that, and it is a shame that you might have thought otherwise.

Finally, turning to your comments regarding the number of CCRC applications received from projects like ours. We also feel this is not a particularly fair representation of the facts. The figure you quoted of 100 cases is old and inaccurate data – collected by INUK (as it then was). INUK’s figures were never available for transparent verification. Furthermore, some Innocence Projects were not part of INUK, and some had left, for example Cardiff in 2010. You may also wish to note that INUK is no longer a network and we do not know why it continues to represent itself as such; it is run by one person, and represents just that one person as far as is known. It has no other members. So if the figures you are still quoting are from INUK then you might want to investigate, before commenting, what INUK stands for and who runs it as it does not represent projects in the UK.

Further, given the rules on who can contact the CCRC regarding an application it is likely the CCRC may not always be aware they are reading the result of tireless work from a group of students. Our work takes many forms: often this will involve writing a CCRC application to be submitted by our client or their legal representative. Equally, when necessary we will write supplementary submissions to a CCRC application, submitted again through the appropriate avenue to the CCRC. Unfortunately your comment only serves to further undermine the work we do, conducive only to the end of damaging the morale and motivation of our hardworking students.

Richard, we, the students and staff who work at the Miscarriages of Justice Review Centre, have met many of your colleagues in the recent years. We know what the CCRC is about and the kind of people who work there. We have the same aims and the same guiding principles. To see such careless comment about the competence of our student caseworkers is disappointing to say the least, coming from the head of an organisation with which we work so closely and with whom we wish to maintain a good relationship. We feel that the CCRC has improved greatly under your leadership, particularly in terms of waiting times and thoroughness of investigations, and comments like these do nothing but harm our mutually supportive relationship.

We extend an invitation to you to visit the Miscarriages of Justice Review Centre at the University of Sheffield so you can see for yourself our working practices, and how we can better their efficiency for the future.

Kind regards,

The Miscarriages of Justice Review Centre

Professor Claire McGourlay

Dr Andrew Green

James Cairns (PG student manager)

Chris Musgrave (PG student manager)

Elliott Booth (UG student manager)



12 responses to “An open letter to the CCRC – #2”

  1. Helga says:

    I’m sure I posted a comment in here but can’t see it! I can’t see the other comments either…..

  2. Michael Naughton says:

    References to INUK are incorrect and unnecessary and merely detract from an otherwise reasonable letter, imho.

    Don’t you agree that it is time to move on (INUK ceased member ship in 2014 and its reasons are well documented and fully transparent on the INUK website) and be judged by your own deeds and their outcomes as any other independent entity?

    Re your own transparency: how many cases are you working on? (I do know how many INUK referred to you in the 8 years Sheffield was a member). How long have you been working on them? How many requests/applications have you made to the police or CPS for access to exhibits or biological samples for testing by new techniques? How many applications have you made to the CCRC on behalf of clients? How many were referred back to the Court of Appeal? How many were overturned? etc.

    Is this not what really matters to innocent victims of wrongful convictions and imprisonment and their families and the test of a successful and effective cle enterprise?

  3. Claire McGourlay says:

    Although this letter was not an open letter about you here is our answer to you.

    Since you took an arbitrary decision two years ago to close down the network that linked innocence projects (rather than reform it into a democratic mutual support organization), you are not entitled to statistics from us (particularly when you tweet about how useless we all are-very unnecessary in my opinion and I can’t reply as you have blocked me and my students) and yes we have moved on and are doing very well indeed.

    We have no fear of transparency, so here is some information.
    We have 13 active clients, not including dormant cases i.e. those that we can’t work on, or which are with the CCRC.
    We also did a significant amount of work on Danny Major’s case but no longer can as we’ve been prevented by the intervention of Greater Manchester Police.
    How long do we work on a case? Varies, and as you well know, is out of our control: delays caused by CPS, lawyers, clients, discoveries of potential fresh evidence that have to be followed up, clients becoming uncontactable at times.
    Requests/applications to the police or CPS for access to exhibits or biological samples for testing by new techniques? Irrelevant in most of our cases (only 1 of our cases involved this).
    Applications to the CCRC? One refusal and 3 cases currently under consideration by CCRC. Additionally, actively compiling applications on behalf of 4 clients. Others are delayed due to new lines of inquiry opening up which are likely to produce additional significant fresh evidence, which we are pursuing on the instructions of our clients.

    As you are well aware there are no simple answers to such complex questions where complex and detailed responses are required. We do not need to spend further time on this, as we have cases to work on. All our clients are informed about how we work when we offer to take on their cases, and kept informed of progress or problems when they occur. We also publish an annual report and anyone is welcome to it.

    In a similar spirit of transparency, I trust that you will answer my following questions:
    1. In May 2013 (the latest time for which the Inquiry newsletter – edition 8 – posts such data), INUK claims that 110 cases had been referred to member projects, and there was a further waiting list of 113. Please let us know how those figures are broken down and what happened to those on the waiting list when you disbanded INUK.
    2. As regards INUK’s current status, there is clear confusion about what INUK now is, and the website is misleading. It is not a membership organisation; it is not a network; it does not represent the UK. Will you please urgently amend the website wording to clarify that confusion so that vulnerable people looking for help know exactly what INUK now is and what it is not?
    3. You say you are doing casework. How many cases are you working on, and what stages are they at? Who is doing this casework?

    • Helga says:

      We are all fighting the same war. it’s such a shame we cannot help each other instead of arguing.

      Support groups for those falsely accused of sexual offences, especially historic cases, work together and share information. Isn’t this how Miscarriages of Justice groups / university law schools, wherever they are, should be too.

      This work is hard enough without infighting.

      I address this to Mike as well as Claire. I have no doubt that all projects (or whatever they are called) work very hard to right terrible wrongs. Arguing helps nobody.

  4. Michael Naughton says:

    You are fully aware of why INUK ceased membership and it is recorded on the INUK website so I am somewhat at a loss about the motives behind your questions. Nonetheless, for the record, I refute the claim that I took an arbitrary decision to cease INoUK membership and also the claim that INUK was not democratic. INUK’s current status is very clearly articulated on the website to my mind. Our casework is confidential unless and until cases are referred by the CCRC when they will be made public.

  5. Julie Price says:

    Michael – Claire’s casework is confidential in the same way as yours (and everyone’s), so your answer is not similarly transparent. We have also been asked about the fate of the 113 people on the 2013 INUK waiting list, so that’s a genuine question too.

    We all (genuinely) raise our hats to you for your fantastic original inspiration and hard work that started this whole thing off. But INUK’s website is far from clear that INUK is now just you (if it’s not just you, then it needs to say who is involved). That issue needs to be resolved urgently in the interests of avoiding innocent or accidental misrepresentations, and in accordance with your ongoing ethical and moral responsibility based on INUK’s rightful place in history.

    It also must be in everyone’s interests to avoid a regular drip-feed of Twitter snipes and pinned “poetry” – let’s hope that is now in the past, and that your response to my open letter to the CCRC might instead mark a welcome return to constructive re-engagement in the interests of the bigger picture.

    We can then all take on board Helga’s wise words…

  6. Michael Naughton says:

    Hi Helga,

    I honestly wish you were correct and that things were so straight-forward.

    Alas, after 10 years of trying to work together with allegedly like-minded people with the same core aim – help to get innocent people to overturn their convictions and clear their names – it is clear to me that there are many different motives that are also at play and which can undermine what I think of as the core aim – careers, student recruitment, cv’s, vanity, to name but a few.

    As you well know, INUK was set up as with the express aim of aiding working together but, as is documented on the INUK website, members generally failed to get involved on any level (even attending meetings and training events for a step too far for most) and casework was negligible for many.

    Inevitably, little or no progress was made on the cases referred to the various innocence projects by INUK.

    INUK ceased membership as others did not want to get involved to work together to sort things out and we did not feel that it was ethical to keep referring cases if they were tending not to be worked on in the face of mounting complaints from prisoners that they were dissatisfied with the innocence projects that we had referred their cases too.

    I think that it is instructive that the innocence projects, or whatever names they now call themselves, have not as yet formed some sort of new collective if they want to work together?

  7. Wullie Beck says:

    If I was an appellant to CCRC while Graham Zellick was a member I would be asking for a review of their decisions.
    He told delgetaes at SCCRC conference in Glasgow that single commissioners decided cases in England.

  8. Wullie Beck says:

    I am also left wondering exactly how many INUK events Your University attended Claire ?

    • Claire Mcgourlay says:

      Almost every singe one of them and with a lot of my students in tow. We even organized one conference.

  9. Helga says:

    Single commissioners decide cases in England? I thought it was three, rather like CA judges….

    Can anybody confirm that?

    • Wullie Beck says:

      Hi Helga

      I personally witnessed Graham Zellick tell delegates this at the 10 year conference of SCCRC in Glasgow.

      I asked CCRC for conmfirmation but was ignored by Mr Foster.

      Perhaps Mr Zellick can confirm what he said at Glasgow.

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