The Crown Prosecution Service is running a six-month study of joint enterprise cases to inform an ongoing review of the criminal appeals process. The pilot was revealed in a date tabled by Lord Tony Woodley who told the House of Lords that he was ‘increasingly concerned’ that there were ‘thousands of prisoners who are rotting away with little or no hope of finding justice’. The Labour peer and former Unite general secretary highlighted joint enterprise ‘guilt-by-association’ sentences and indeterminate IPP sentences ‘abolished a decade ago but not retrospectively’.
‘It seems to be going nowhere,’ Lord Woodley told justice minister Lord Bellamy KC. ‘So, what is the minister doing to correct these obvious miscarriages of justice, particularly as the Government have already accepted, at least on joint enterprise, that BAME groups are disproportionately affected?’
Lord Bellamy insisted that miscarriages of justice occurred ‘relatively rarely’ within our justice system. He appeared to accept problems with the joint enterprise noting that the ‘existing case law does operate in a harsh way on certain young black boys and men’. The minister confirmed that the CPS, which has been heavily criticised for not keeping data on the racial disproportionality of joint enterprise, began a pilot in February this year and established a national scrutiny panel to review its findings with a report due to be published by the end of September. Its results will be considered in relation to the Law Commission’s ongoing review of the criminal appeals process.
The minister was also asked whether the Criminal Cases Review Commission would be given ‘sufficient funding efficiently to ensure that miscarriages of justice are dealt with in a timely way’. The 2021 Westminster Commission on Miscarriages of Justice report into the CCRC, commissioned by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Miscarriages of Justice, revealed that the CCRC had suffered the ‘biggest cut’ of any part of the criminal justice system since 2010. Lord Bellamy confirmed that ‘the functioning of the CCRC – its resources, its governance and the test it applies’ will be considered as part of the Law Commission review.
The Lib Dem peer Baroness Burt called the imprisonment of ‘nearly 3,000’ IPP prisoners ‘a grave injustice which should have been rectified years ago but continues to this day’. ‘The number of such prisoners being recalled has now overtaken those being released,’ she said.
Lord Bellamy said that the government would revisit the issue through its Victims and Prisoners Bill. He added: ‘This is very difficult because, unlike cases of people who are unfairly convicted, these persons have been fairly convicted; the only reason they are in prison is that the Parole Board does not consider them safe to release.’
One Labour peer Lord Ponsonby suggested that ‘the easiest way’ for ministers to cut miscarriages of justice was to reduce the courts’ backlog. Lord Bellamy said his government did ‘not entirely agree with the analysis of the noble Lord’ that there was a connection between miscarriages and delays . ‘The Government are doing their very best to reduce those backlogs by introducing further judges and adding resources wherever they can,’ he added.