The government’s official law reform body has set out proposals for a comprehensive review of the criminal appeals system to ‘ensure that the courts have the right powers to enable the effective, efficient and appropriate resolution of appeals’. As reported on then Justice Gap earlier in the summer, the investigation follows a letter from the Lord Chancellor to prisoner Mark Alexander via Andrew Selous MP and calls by the Westminster Commission on Miscarriages of Justice – more here. The review is wider than anticipated including, for example, post-conviction disclosure as well as the statutory test applied by the miscarriage of justice watchdog before referring a case back to the Court of Appeal.
According to the Law Commission, the new project will consider ‘the need for reform, with particular focus on identifying any inconsistencies, uncertainties and gaps in the law that may be hindering the ability of the appeals system to function as effectively and fairly as possible’. As part of the review, the group has highlighted the following area covering the powers of the Court of Appeal ‘including its power to order a re-trial of a case or substitute a conviction for another offence’; whether there is evidence that the ‘safety test’ may make it difficult to correct any miscarriages of justice; the ‘real possibility’ test which the Westminster Commission argued acts as ‘a brake’ upon the Criminal Cases Review Commission’s ability to refer cases back to the court; the Attorney General’s powers to refer a case to the Court of Appeal because the sentence is “unduly lenient”; and the Crown Court’s sentencing powers for a new trial that is the result of an appeal. The review also is set too cover other contentious areas including the regime governing ‘the retention and disclosure of evidence for a case, including after conviction, and retention and access to records of proceedings’.
‘The appeals system has faced calls for reform in recent years – often marked by conflicting views on the areas of law that should be changed,’ commented Professor Penney Lewis, the Law Commissioner for Criminal Law. ‘Our wide-ranging review of appeals will look at the evidence behind competing arguments for reform. We will closely scrutinise where the law is working well, and where it may be falling short. It’s essential that there is clarity, efficiency and fairness in criminal appeals at all levels. By consulting with the public including those who have direct experience of the appeals process, and identifying areas for reform, we can help ensure that there is confidence in the justice system and its ability to remedy any wrongs.’
Helen Pitcher OBE, CCRC chair, said that they have called for a review into the appeals process ‘for a number of years and look forward to working closely with the Law Commission on this vitally important appraisal’. ‘The CCRC is committed to finding and investigating miscarriages of justice and it is right that the appeals system is regularly and robustly scrutinised.’
You read the full list of areas to be reviewed in the project’s terms of reference.