Westminster commission to look at role of the miscarriage of justice watchdog

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Westminster commission to look at role of the miscarriage of justice watchdog

Old Bailey: the central criminal court of England and Wales

A cross-party group of politicians has launched an inquiry into the miscarriage of justice watchdog following  ‘serious misgivings’ from lawyers, campaigners and academics about its ability to deal with cases of alleged wrongful convictions.

The all party parliamentary group on miscarriages of justice (APPG) has today announced the establishment of a body which will look at the performance of the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC). The APPG’s Westminster commission has the responsibility for ‘investigating the ability of the criminal justice system to effectively identify, rectify and prevent miscarriages of justice’.

As has been reported extensively on the Justice Gap, concerns over the performance of the CCRC have mounted since it referred just a dozen cases to the Court of Appeal in 2017 and only 19 cases in 2018. There has also been concern over the CCRC’s success rate. Its 20 year average was 67%, and so more than two-thirds of referrals were overturned; however, as the number of referrals crashed, so has its success rate to just 46% last year.

The CCRC is also in the grips of a funding crisis. When the Commission was set up up in 1997, its budget was £7.5m and it dealt with 800 cases a year. This compares to funding of just £5.45m last year with applications running at an average of 1,500 a year.

The new Westminister Commission will assess the body’s relationship with the Court of Appeal, and whether the test used for referring cases places too high a burden on those appealing their conviction. It will also consider the current remit and funding of the CCRC, and if issues and failings within other parts of the criminal justice system are preventing the CCRC from exercising its mandate fully.

The first session of the Commission, chaired by Baroness Stern, who has a background in penal reform, and Lord Garnier QC, the former Solicitor-General, is scheduled for Monday 15th July. Oral evidence is due to be given by the CCRC, with the Commission now accepting written submissions from relevant parties.

Additional reporting by Jon Robins


From the Westminster Commission’s terms of Reference

Given that there are serious misgivings expressed in the legal profession, and amongst commentators and academics, about the remit of the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) and its ability to deal with cases of miscarriages of justice, and given that perceptions of injustice within the criminal justice system are as damaging to public confidence as actual cases of injustice, the Commission will inquire into: 

    1. The ability of the CCRC, as currently set up, to deal effectively with alleged miscarriages of justice; 
    2. Whether statutory or other changes might be needed to assist the CCRC to carry out its function, including;  (i) the CCRC’s relationship with the Court of Appeal with particular reference to the current test for referring cases to it (the ‘real possibility’ test);   (ii) the remit, composition, structure and funding of the CCRC; 
    3. The extent to which the CCRC’s role is hampered by failings or issues elsewhere in the criminal justice system;  and make recommendations.