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CCRC in the dock

(Posted on 16/07/19)


The first session of the Westminster Commission on Miscarriages of Justice began yesterday with the Commission for Criminal Cases Review (CCRC) up first before the panel.

Chaired by former Solicitor General Lord Garnier QC and Baroness Stern, and including former chief inspector of prisons Dame Anne Owers, Michelle Nelson QC and editor-in-chief of prison journal Inside Time Erwin James, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Miscarriages of Justice’s review will examine the CCRC’s work, its funding and its relationship with the Court of Appeal.

Voices have increasingly raised concern over the ability of the CCRC and Court of Appeal to correct wrongful convictions, particularly after 60% budget cuts since 2010.

Since its inception in 1997, the CCRC has been repeatedly criticised for its inherent conservatism and its deference and subservience to the Court of Appeal. In Terry McGuinness’ 2016 Commons Briefing Paper, the CCRC’s test of whether there is a “real possibility” of overturning a conviction was described as “timid” and “fearful of rebuke” and effectively turning it into another court. As for funding, the CCRC was described by Lord Steyn as “severely under-resourced” twenty years ago, long before the cuts.

Declaring earlier this year that sending cases back to the Court of Appeal was “not be the be-all-and-end-all”, the CCRC’s new chair Helen Pitcher OBE explained:

“I think perhaps too little attention is paid to the other outcomes of the Commission’s work, such as the considerable value we bring to the justice system in the de facto audit of the safety of convictions and correctness of sentences in each case we consider but do not refer, and the feedback we provide and warnings we give to other parts of the justice system when we see worrying trends.”