CCRC Court Of Appeal's Lapdoghttp://www.independent.co.uk/news...-hardhitting-report-10125396.html
Miscarriage of justice review body is dismissed as the Court of Appeal's 'lap dog' in hard-hitting report
Innocent victims of miscarriages of justice are “languishing in jail” due to delays and faults in the case review system, according to MPs behind a hard-hitting report to be published this week.
The Birmingham-based Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) will be criticised for failing to investigate adequately cases of people wrongly or improperly convicted of crimes. The CCRC will be warned that it is failing to stand up to appeal court judges when seeking to overturn wrongful convictions.
The CCRC was set up in 1997, following an inquiry into a series of high-profile miscarriages of justice involving the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four. It was the first body of its kind in the world. MPs heard evidence that despite Parliament’s intention for the CCRC to be robustly independent of the legal system so that it could properly assess whether mistakes had been made, too often it proved “deferential and subservient” to the Court of Appeal. As a result it had become too “timid” in bringing injustice cases forward leaving innocent people to serve years behind bars.
According to a source on the influential Justice Select Committee, MPs are concerned that the CCRC has become timid and fearful of criticism from judges. Some critics accused it of becoming the Court of Appeal’s “lap dog”. The report will criticise the test that the CCRC uses to judge whether an injustice case will be pursued. The test is for whether there is a “reasonable prospect” of a conviction being overturned.
Last year, Supreme Court Judge Lord Thomas called on the CCRC to no longer limit its inquiries to these types of cases, pointing out it was the “safety net” should there be any possibility a wrongful conviction had been made. Professor Jacqueline Hodgson, from the University of Warwick Law School, has suggested adding a “lurking doubt” test criterion.
“Our concern is the reasonable prospect test,” said one Justice Committee source. “The CCRC is applying this test too tightly – it’s the wrong test. It needs to look at whether something has gone wrong, whether there is something wrong with the evidence. It’s acting like another court.”
The report is also expected to express concern over the skills of case workers. “The way in which cases are handled seems to vary immensely,” a source said. “The CCRC needs to be better trained and better resourced.”
MPs will also criticise the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) for cutting CCRC’s funding, which they believe is financially counterproductive as it will heavily delay cases from being processed. The commission’s budget has been slashed from £8.1m a decade ago to £5.1m today. The organisation had expereinced a 60 per cent increase in review applications during the same period.
Richard Foster, the chair of the CCRC, told MPs a lack of finance was the biggest inhibitor of the commission’s workload.
Mr Foster argued that for every £10 the CCRC spent 10 years ago, it had only £4 today. He said he was “quite certain” this was the biggest cut anywhere in the criminal justice system, but claimed that he only needed £1m from the MoJ to clear the backlog.
“£1m is 0.1 per cent of the Ministry of Justice’s £9bn budget, so it is a very small percentage. It is the same amount as one Tomahawk missile. I don’t know how many Tomahawk missiles the Royal Navy has, but if they could manage with one fewer, we could clear our queues.”
The CCRC insists only 1.2 per cent of Crown Court convictions result in requests for case reviews. Criminal appeal lawyers dismiss CCRC claims that this shows 98.8 per cent of convictions are safe, and argue that it is only the tip of a much bigger iceberg.
The MPs will challenge the MoJ to find that £1m. “This is a very pressing matter – it either means that people are left languishing in prison or those who have been released still might have an unfair conviction hanging over them,” said an MP.
The average waiting time for assessments on cases referred to the CCRC is six to 18 months.
The CCRC denied to MPs that they “lacked courage or forthrightness or did not dig deep enough”.
Mr Foster said: “We have an idealistic belief in our independence but that does not blind us to the legal hurdles we have to overcome. They were not set by us.”
‘Dad never stopped trying to clear his name’
“We all knew Dad didn’t do it but what happened to him broke up our family anyway. My mum was left singlehandedly to bring up the four of us,” Steve Stock says.
At 6.47pm on Saturday, 24 January 1970 a gang of robbers attacked supermarket staff as they took the weekly takings a short distance from Tesco’s to the night safe at Lloyds bank around the corner in the Merrion shopping centre, Leeds.
The store’s manager and his colleague were bludgeoned around the head with iron coshes, £4,000 was snatched (enough to buy a house in 1970) and the robbers fled in a waiting getaway car. The police claimed Tony Stock was one of them.
He always insisted the police lied. He said he was at his house in Stockton-on-Tees, celebrating his 30th birthday with his wife, Brenda and their four kids: Steve, who was just two years old; his two big sisters, Antoinette (“Twinnie”), five, Charlene, nine; and baby Anthony.
Twinnie, Steve and Anthony still live around the corner from the house they grew up in. To this day, Twinnie recalls the party. When I asked how she felt about the book I was writing on her father’s case, she told me thought it was a great idea. She said that she really wanted to know that he didn’t do it.
“But you know your dad didn’t do it. You were there,” I pointed out.
“Even though I have memories of the day – singing happy birthday and celebrating – I was only five years old. It is a blurred memory,” she says.
“People are cruel. Even though you tell them he didn’t do it. You would hear the cynical remarks: ‘They all say that.’ It begins to chip away at you.
“It’s years of people disbelieving you that wears you down. My father must have been a very strong character to continue his fight till he died.”
“From day one, Tony was fighting the system and he never gave up,” recalls Tony’s older brother Alan, who visited him in prison every other week. He says Tony’s imprisonment destroyed an entire family. In particular, he remembers the devastating impact of a 93-day hunger strike in Gartree prison.
“He lost so much weight he had to be fitted with a calliper to support one of his legs,” Alan says. “He only called the strike off because he overheard prison wardens threatening to move him to the Isle of Wight which meant we couldn’t see him. It didn’t just wreck Tony’s health, but the health of our mother, who couldn’t cope.” Mary Stock was heartbroken by what had happened to her second youngest child. She died of cancer soon after Tony Stock was released in 1976.
“I didn’t really know my dad when I was growing up,” Steve says. “Life was hard for us growing up. Even now just the other day somebody came up to me and said: ‘You’re the bank robber’s son, I remember you.’ ”
“My mum was left to look after us all,” Steve continues, “but life didn’t move on for Dad. He never stopped trying to clear his name. And why should he? He was innocent.”
“It’s now over two years since our Dad died,” Anthony adds. “We feel we can’t scatter his ashes till he has justice. He spent 43 years of his life trying to clear his name. As a family, we’re committed to carrying on his fight along with Uncle Alan. We know he didn’t commit this crime he was imprisoned for.
“Anyone who takes a proper look at this case knows Dad didn’t do it.”
The First Miscarriage of Justice: The ‘Unreported and Amazing’ Case of Tony Stock, by Jon Robins, published by Waterside Press
For me a review of their Scottish Counterparts is long overdue.
How can the SCCRC say they are independent from the Judiciary while their members sit as Judges ?
Sir Gerald Gordon has presided over more than just these two appeals while being a member of SCCRC.
I really do not think so.
I attended the SCCRC 10 year conference and was appalled to hear Peter Duff talk about how they refused to refer a case they knew would be a stone walled certainty to win an appeal.
He said they refused to refer it because they knew the person was guilty, such was their powers he was bragging about.
I also witnessed a Graham Zellick from CCRC talk about how single commissioners in England decide an appellants fate and if their cases will be referred back to the appeal courts or not.
Not really surprising then they are found wanting.
We are never told who makes the decisions within the SCCRC.
Justice Committee's Report on recommendations of the CCRC
" Be bolder, not a Humble sub servant to the Court of Appeal"
I wonder when someone will look at the SCCRC's Judicial Consequences Test - aka as Interest of Justice Test.
Conclusions and recommendations
The ‘real possibility’ test
1. There was a strong difference of views amongst our witnesses on changing the ‘real possibility’ test. Any change would have to be undertaken in light of a change to the Court of Appeal’s grounds for allowing appeals, and would have to take account of the need to avoid a waste of resources or a detrimental effect on applicants and victims alike. While an alternative test might allow the CCRC more scope to display
its independence of the Court of Appeal, by definition the only additional referrals which a change to the test alone would allow would be those with less than a real possibility of success. (Paragraph 16)
2. We have seen no conclusive evidence that the CCRC is failing to apply the ‘real possibility’ test correctly in the majority of cases. We accept that application of the test is a difficult task and is by no means a precise science, but where potential miscarriages of justice are concerned we consider that the CCRC should be willing to err on the side of making a referral. The Commission should definitely never fear disagreeing with, or being rebuked by, the Court of Appeal. If a bolder approach leads to 5 more failed appeals but one additional miscarriage being corrected, then
that is of clear benefit. (Paragraph 20)
3. We recommend that the CCRC be less cautious in its approach to the ‘real possibility’ test, and reduce the targeted success rate in its Key Performance Indicators accordingly. (Paragraph 20)
4. We are concerned that there may be some miscarriages of justice which are going uncorrected because of the difficulty the CCRC faces in getting some such cases past the threshold of ‘real possibility’, as a result of the Court of Appeal’s approach. While it is important that the jury system is not undermined, properly-directed juries which have seen all of the evidence may occasionally make incorrect decisions. The Court’s jurisprudence in this area, including on ‘lurking doubt’, is difficult to
interpret and it is concerning that there is no clear or formal mechanism to consider quashing convictions arising from decisions which have a strong appearance of being incorrect. Any change in this area would require a change to the Court of Appeal’s approach, which would itself require a statutory amendment to the Court’s grounds for allowing appeals. We are aware that this would constitute a significant change to the system of criminal appeals in this country and that it would qualify to a limited
extent the longstanding constitutional doctrine of the primacy of the jury. Neither of these things should be allowed to stand in the way of ensuring that innocent people are not falsely imprisoned. (Paragraph 27)
5. We recommend that the Law Commission review the Court of Appeal’s grounds for allowing appeals. This review should include consideration of the benefits and dangers of a statutory change to allow and encourage the Court of Appeal to quash a conviction where it has a serious doubt about the verdict, even without fresh evidence or fresh legal argument. If any such change is made, it should be accompanied by a review of its
28 Criminal Cases Review Commission effects on the CCRC and of the continuing appropriateness of the ‘real possibility’ test. (Paragraph 2
6. We do not think that the CCRC should change its approach to the Royal Prerogative. Greater use of the power under section 16 of the 1995 Act would bring the executive back into the process in precisely the manner that the creation of the CCRC was intended to avoid. In our view, increased use of the Royal Prerogative would be a wholly inadequate and inappropriate answer to the problems that have been raised, given that it does not lead to the quashing of the conviction or the correction of the
miscarriage of justice but only commutes the sentence, and so does not provide complete justice for a falsely convicted person. (Paragraph 29)
Resources, investigatory powers, and practices
7. If the CCRC is to function effectively it must be funded properly. We accept that the Ministry has had to find savings across the board and that it could not have predicted the sharp rise in the CCRC’s workload. However it is now clear that the CCRC is struggling to cope with these additional applications at its post-austerity resource levels and, with the increased workload, is unable to deliver an improved service for
less. The current level of delays is unacceptable and must be brought down, and this will inevitably require further funding. As so many of the CCRC’s other issues are also blamed on funding, an increase should also make identifying areas for further improvement an easier task. (Paragraph 35)
8. We recommend that the CCRC should, as a matter of urgency, be granted the additional £1 million of annual funding that it has requested until it has reduced its backlog. Furthermore, the Ministry should engage with the CCRC in longer term budgetary planning so that the Commission can properly plan ahead and recruit efficiently, with a view to restoring it to a level of funding which enables it to eliminate lengthy delays in handling cases. (Paragraph 35)
9. We acknowledge the serious consequences of every miscarriage of justice for the person convicted, no matter how minor the offence. Despite this, we also think that the effect of overturning a miscarriage in more serious cases is much greater and that the CCRC was originally envisaged as an organisation to deal with such serious cases. Given the serious funding constraints that we have identified, we are persuaded that
the CCRC should have greater control over its caseload in order to better focus its resources where they would have the greatest effect. (Paragraph 39)
10. We recommend that the Ministry make statutory provision to allow the CCRC a discretion to refuse to investigate cases dealt with summarily, if they deem it not to be in the public interest to investigate, and a discretion to refuse to investigate sentenceonly cases. (Paragraph 39)
11. In order to be effective and to reduce delays the CCRC’s existing section 17 powers to require public bodies to disclose materials need to be supplemented byenforcement measures or sanctions for failure to comply in an appropriate amount of time. (Paragraph 41) Criminal Cases Review Commission 29
12. We recommend that the Government bring forward legislation to add a time limit for public bodies to comply with a section 17 request, unless there are extenuating circumstances, and an appropriate sanction in case of non-compliance. (Paragraph 41)
13. The extension of the CCRC’s section 17 powers to cover private bodies is urgently necessary and commands universal support. Successive Governments have no excuse for failing to do this and any further continuing failure is not acceptable.(Paragraph 44)
14. It should be a matter of great urgency and priority for the next Government to bring forward legislation to implement the extension of the CCRC’s powers so that it can compel material necessary for it to carry out investigations from private bodies through an application to the courts. No new Criminal Justice Bill should be introduced without the inclusion of such a clause. Our successor Committee should monitor the progress of this to ensure that it happens promptly, and should continue to put pressure
on the Government if necessary. (Paragraph 45)
15. We are concerned with the evidence that we have received on the variation between Case Review Managers, both in approach and in terms of expertise. While this does not suggest that there are serious systemic shortcomings in the CCRC’s investigative work, there remains room for improvement even within its resource constraints.
16. We recommend that the Commission take steps to ensure that Case Review Managers consistently engage fully with applicants throughout the investigation in cases which progress past Stage 1 screening. As a matter of course this should include meeting with the applicant in all cases being given a type 3 or type 4 review, unless there are compelling reasons not to. We also recommend that variations in the experience and expertise of Case Review Managers be dealt with by assigning them to investigations
more intelligently, so as to utilise fully their differing areas of proficiency and knowledge. (Paragraph 51)
17. The Criminal Cases Review Commission, because it is the only body which investigates and refers to the Court of Appeal miscarriages of justice, is in a unique position to identify issues across the criminal justice system which lead to such miscarriages. We welcome the CCRC’s willingness to allow academics to perform research alongside it and the steps it is currently taking to build upon that. We acknowledge that the CCRC is in a difficult position with regard to resources, but we think that there is a great benefit in preventing miscarriages of justice from occurring in the first place. Greater understanding within the criminal justice system of the causes of miscarriages of justice would benefit the falsely accused, victims, public safety and the interests of justice, and could produce a saving in time and in money which would otherwise be spent by the courts and the CCRC in subsequently overturning false convictions. (Paragraph 53)
18. We recommend that the CCRC should develop a formal system for regularly feeding back into all areas of the criminal justice system, from the police and Crown Prosecution Service through to the courts and the Ministry of Justice, on its 30 Criminal Cases Review Commission
understanding of the issues which are continuing to cause miscarriages of justice. (Paragraph 53)
Conclusion on the CCRC’s effectiveness
19. We conclude that the CCRC is performing its functions reasonably well, and we have identified areas for improvement, but we were struck by the disparity between what critics believe it to be doing and what it claims that it is doing. At times there was complete disagreement, even on objective and factual matters. This indicates that at the very least the CCRC has a problem with public perception, including with the awareness of applicants as to what it can do for them and of all stakeholders, including applicants, their representatives, and others, as to how it operates. The CCRC will never convince its most vociferous detractors, but it could be doing more
to ensure that its work and processes are well understood. (Paragraph 54)
20. The level of successful referrals from the CCRC shows that it remains as necessary a body now as when it was set up. We received very little evidence advocating its abolition, and even its strongest critics have said that they simply want it to improve. The existence of the CCRC is not enough in and of itself; it must be given the resources and powers it requires to perform its job effectively. The fundamental constitutional principle on which our criminal justice system rests and which the
Commission exists to uphold is that the guilty are convicted and the innocent go free. (Paragraph 55)
Personally I think if they are the ones doing all the investigations then they should be given the power to overturn the convictions they think unsafe.