Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

3.  Memorandum submitted by Falsely Accused Carers and Teachers (FACT)

  1.  FACT is a national organisation which campaigns on behalf of falsely accused carers and teachers, and has members throughout the United Kingdom. We are also part of an increasing network of local, national and international organisations who campaign for justice for people who have been wrongly accused of child abuse, including many who are (or have been) convicted of offences but maintain their innocence.

  2.  In recent years a number of FACT members have made applications to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) for their cases to be reviewed. Some have been successful, some have not. This year three FACT members have been particularly grateful for the Commission's work on their behalf, having had their convictions quashed by the Court of Appeal.

  3.  What these cases, successful and unsuccessful, demonstrate is that there is a widespread belief among our members of the need for a truly independent body such as the CCRC to challenge:

    (i)  legal assumptions and dated case law;

    (ii)  investigative malpractice;

    (iii)  flawed science and biased expert opinion; and

    (iv)  the evidential value of believing testimony related to historic events.

  4.  It is for the above reasons that FACT is campaigning for a Royal Commission to look into child abuse cases where investigative malpractice has been alleged.

  5.  Given the Select Committee's interest in this matter it is inevitable that individuals will concentrate on the negative aspects of the Commission's work. Whilst FACT as an organisation does have its criticisms of the Commission we wish to place on record our appreciation of the increasingly important and difficult work they do—especially in the current political climate when the pursuit of justice is mostly perceived in terms which favour "victims" of crime rather than the pursuit of truth.

  6.  We also want to acknowledge some of the problems which the Commission itself has identified in recent annual reports. These include the impact on service delivery of:

    (i)  reduced budgets and consequent reduction in delegated expenditure limits (DELs);

    (ii)  rising referrals and increasing delays which cause further backlog;

    (iii)  reduced percentage of successful outcomes (in terms of convictions quashed and/or sentences reduced);

    (iv)  a marked failure to meet its own performance indicators (especially in relation to their Stage 2 target of cases completed with 15 months). The actual level of performance last year ranged from 38% to 77% each quarter—well short of the 95% target;

    (v)  repeated failure to reach its minimum target of 50 Case Review Managers being in post;

    (vi)  three Commissioners leaving post recently and not being replaced; and

    (vii)  the Commission's abandonment of research and development.

  7.  We very much hope that when the Select Committee meets the Chairman of the CCRC some of these matters will be taken up.


Evidential threshold

  8.  The Commission can only operate within its own legal parameters. At present they can only review and investigate possible miscarriages of justice and refer cases to an Appeal Court where there is a real possibility that either the conviction, finding, verdict, or sentence will not be upheld. This is in contrast to the test applied in the Scottish Courts (which is not an issue for this Committee) which is to review and investigate cases where it is alleged that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred in relation to conviction, sentence or both.

  9.  In our view many of the criticisms which are levelled at the CCRC and the wider criminal justice system would be alleviated if the CCRC acting in England, Northern Ireland, and Wales, adopted the "miscarriage of justice" test which operates in Scotland. This would obviously require changes in primary legislation. However, it seems axiomatic to us there should not be two quite different standards, especially as both jurisdictions are required to operate within a single European Court framework.

  10.  We very much hope the Select Committee will use this opportunity to seek out the Commission's view as to whether their cause would be strengthened by such a move.

  11.  In our view the most critical issue faced by the CCRC is how best to get at the truth. We therefore believe there would be some merit if cases referred by the Commission to the Court of Appeal were developed along the lines of an inquisitorial system. Whilst this would improve the situation it would not, however, eliminate miscarriages of justice completely.

Standards of case management

  12.  Our members have concerns that standards of case management have deteriorated in recent years. We believe this has also been noted by the judiciary. As an example we draw attention to remarks made in (2006) EWCA Crim 1353. This concerns a case which the CCRC referred to the Court of Appeal on 8 December 2004 in respect of the convictions at Leeds Crown Court of John Siddall on 29 July 1999, and Ian Brooke on 4 April 2000, for historical child abuse. They were sentenced to four and 10 years respectively. In a judgement handed down by the Appeal Court on 15 June 2006 Lord Justice Longmore made serious criticisms of the Commission's presentation of this case. (See Appendix, especially Paras 1, and 54 to 59 [Not printed].)

  13.  Whilst FACT has no doubt that this was an untypical case it nevertheless supports the views of many of our members that the CCRC are finding it difficult to maintain the excellent standards for which they have previously been known. How much this is a one off case, or a temporary resource issue, or is part of a wider trend, only the Commission can answer.

Issue of delay

  14.  We also believe the Select Committee should discuss the issue of delay in taking up applications made to the Commission, particularly as it is persistently failing to meet its own targets. In our view the issue of delay has a disproportionate effect upon prisoners of advancing years. The Commission rightly give priority to applications from serving prisoners. However, in our view, they should especially fast track cases from prisoners who are 70 years or older, or otherwise have limited life expectancy. We believe such a policy would not have any significant budgetary implications.

Michael Barnes

FACT National Secretary

2 September 2006

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