Memorandum submitted by the Criminal Cases
1. The Criminal Cases Review Commission
was the first organisation in the world created to investigate
alleged miscarriages of justice and, where appropriate, to refer
cases back to the appeal courts. It was established on 1 January
1997 by the Criminal Appeal Act 1995. The Act sets out that the
Commission can refer a criminal conviction, verdict, finding or
sentence to the relevant appeal court when it considers there
is a real possibility that it will not be upheld.
2. There are 11 Commissioners appointed
by the Queen on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. They
are supported by 86 staff (80 full time equivalent) based in offices
3. The Commission is operating this year
with a total budget of about £7.3 million funded through
grant in aid from the Ministry of Justice.
4. The Commission has made sustained and
significant improvements in its performance over the last two-and-a-half
years. Waiting times experienced by applicants are our main performance
indicator. Those waiting times have reduced dramatically since
we reorganised our casework processes in late 2006. In 2005, an
applicant in custody with a complex case would have waited 20
months for review to start. Today, the time to allocation is less
than five months. Likewise, the waiting time to allocation for
applicants at liberty is just over 16 months, down from 32 months
in 2005. In March 2006 there were some 225 cases awaiting allocation
for review. As of March 2008 there are just 78.
5. These improvements followed a review
of the Commission's processes and structures in September 2005.
Implementing recommendations from that review strengthened management
by introducing Group Leaders as an intervening tier between Commission
management and front line staff. Group Leaders manage casework
groups and report to the Director of Casework, thereby greatly
improving performance monitoring. This internal reorganisation
of our processes has delivered results even faster than anticipated
with these dramatic falls in waiting times and the number of cases
6. The Commission has, like most government
organisations, experienced financial challenges as a result of
budget reductions in recent yearsour budget will continue
to shrink until at least 2010-11. For the Spending Review 2007
period our budget reduces by £100k in money terms each year.
These reductions may seem modest, but applying inflation to the
2005-06 starting point shows that a constant level of funding
would have required a budget of about £8.3 million in 2010-11.
So, the sustained improvement in performance has been delivered
against the backdrop of a significant reduction in resources.
7. To live within means we have had to implement
efficiencies and cost savings to bridge the funding gap which
would otherwise amount to nearly £1.8 million by 2010-11.
Staff costs account for almost 70% of our budget. Much of the
remainder is made up of fixed costs such as rent for our offices.
This means that significant savings must come from reducing staff
costs. A recruitment freeze has been in place for more than two
years and further reductions are planned. The Commission will
have lost nearly 30% of case working staff over a period of six
years by the time we reach the end of the Spending Review period.
Obviously, continuing to sustain or improve performance against
a backdrop of further resource reductions will be a considerable
8. The Commission has very broad powers
under section 17 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 to secure material
from public bodies for the purposes of review. There is, however,
no corresponding power in respect of private bodies or persons.
While many organisations and individuals do co-operate with the
Commission, the absence of such a power can inhibit our work.
The Commission contributed to the work of a multi-agency working
group led by the Office for Criminal Justice Reform and looking
into the issue of third party disclosure. The group produced a
report of its findings which is being considered by the Government.
9. The Commission can be directed by the
Court of Appeal to investigate and report on matters referred
to it by the Court under section 23A of the Criminal Appeal Act
1968 and section 15 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995. We continue
to receive a steady flow of these cases, carrying out 11 such
investigations last year. Between the end of March 2008 and the
end of February 2009, we have been asked by the Court to investigate
in five new cases and to undertake further work in two linked
cases from the previous year. We appreciate fully the importance
of this work to the criminal justice system. As such directions
relate to live proceedings they necessarily take priority over
our cases waiting to be allocated and can require a significant
amount of investigation time. A key theme from this work continues
to be enquires relating to jury contamination or bias.
10. Our key role is to review alleged or
suspected miscarriages of justice with a view to possible referral
to an appeal court if it is the Commission's view that there is
a "real possibility" (the statutory test) that a conviction,
verdict, finding or sentence would not now be upheld. In the words
of Lord Bingham CJ: "The exercise of the power to refer accordingly
... is entrusted to the Commission|and to no one else ... the
threshold ... is imprecise but plainly denotes a contingency which,
in the Commission's judgement, is more than an outside chance
or a bare possibility, but which may be less than a probability
or a likelihood or a racing certainty."
11. The Commission has accordingly had to
tread a careful line between not, automatically, referring all
but the most threadbare cases (so as not to burden the courts
with a mass of hopeless appeals) and not being so cautious as
to refer only those cases where it judges the applicants prospect
of success on appeal is more or less assured.
12. In any one year the Commission expects
to receive between 800 and 1,000 cases. The number of referrals
as a percentage of cases closed fell between 04/05 and 07/08.
In 04/05 we referred just over 5% of cases closed, in 2005-06
we referred 4.5% in 2006-07 it was 4%. However, these percentages
have to be viewed against changes in the total volume of cases
received by the Commission which rose sharply between 2003-04
and 2006-07 and now appears to be reverting to the average of
around 900 applications a year.
13. The absolute number of cases referred
over the last few years has remained fairly constant at between
36 in 2003-04, 47 in 2005-06 and 27 in 2007-08. In the current
performance year we have so far referred 35 out of the 862 cases
closed. That suggests the rate of referrals as a percentage of
cases closed for 2008/9 will be around 4.1%slightly above
the Commission's long term average of 3.8%. However, given the
relatively small absolute numbers the Commission handles, it is
dangerous to attach too much significance to any one year's figures.
14. Cases from Northern Ireland remain an
important part of the Commission's work. Between the start of
the Commission's working life in 1997 and the end of February
2009, we have received 180 Northern Irish cases and closed 143
of them. As at the end of February this year, 28 of those cases
had been referred. 24 cases had been heard by the Northern Ireland
Court of Appeal. 22 of those resulted in either the convictions
being quashed or the sentences reduced. Convictions were upheld
in the remaining two cases.
15. In recent years the Commission has been
called upon to investigate a growing number of convictions dating
from the period between 1968 and 1998 and associated with "The
Troubles". The convictions which have been brought to the
Commission's attention have related to a wide range of matters
and have, for example, raised issues concerning the interrogation
of suspects, the handling of informants or the alleged non-disclosure
of relevant material. The Commission's inquiries into those convictions
have sometimes overlapped with criminal, disciplinary or other
investigations being conducted by other bodies and the demands
which "historic" cases of this type make on the Commission's
resources, financial and human, are considerable.
16. On 9 May 2007, as part of much wider
machinery of Government changes, sponsorship of the Commission
transferred from the Home Office (specifically from the cross-departmental
Office for Criminal Justice Reform) to the Ministry of Justice
(MoJ) and now lies with the Delivery Directorate, part of the
Access to Justice Group within MoJ.
17. The Commission is currently one of only
three such bodies investigating and referring miscarriages of
justice when the usual appeal process has been exhaustedthe
others being in Scotland and Norway. There is growing international
interest in emulating this model. The Commission has continued
to share the benefit of its experience and expertise with a range
of individuals and organisations from around the world. This year
Commission staff have already met and made presentations on our
work to delegations from the Iranian judiciary and from Thailand's
Ministry of Justice. In the last 18 months we have also taken
part in the Inquiry into Paediatric Forensic Pathology in Ontario,
Canada, hosted visits to the Commission of interested parties
from Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, Poland and the USA.
18. The Commission's many and varied stakeholders
include the judiciary, the legal profession, the police and other
criminal justice agencies and various miscarriage of justice campaign
groups as well as any convicted person who believes their criminal
conviction unsafe or their sentence wrong. We continue to benefit
from the contributions and scrutiny of many of those stakeholders.
19. In the last year the Commission has
sent guest lecturers to university law schools at Leeds, Birmingham,
Aston, Kent, Northampton, Middlesex, Nottingham and Coventry.
Commissioners regularly speak alongside other experts at events
such as the forthcoming 13th annual Criminal Appeals Conference,
the recent conference on The Challenge of Historic Allegations
of Past Sexual Abuse and other events including the Criminal Bar
Associates Conference, the Inner Temple Conference and the Student
Law Conference. One Commissioner has a seat on the recently formed
Forensic Science Advisory Council.
20. An ongoing prison visits programme has
allowed us in the last 12 months to reach inmates at various establishments
including HMP Dovegate, HMP Downview for women and young female
offenders, HMP Grendon and HMP Feltham Young Offenders Institution.
A highly successful 10th Anniversary Conference was held by the
Commission in May 2007 and a further stakeholders' conference
is planned for later in 2009. Several Commissioners and Commission
staff will be attending the Scottish CCRC's 10th anniversary conference
in April and the annual tripartite meeting between us and our
Scottish and Norwegian counterparts.
21. The coming months will see some significant
changes at the Commission. Governance of the organisation will
be strengthened by the recruitment this year of a chief executive.
The year 2009/10 will also see the appointment of the Commission's
first non-executive directors; two are being sought.
22. The Commission will take on the responsibility
for reviewing alleged miscarriages of justice arising from the
Court Martial and the Service Civilian Court. The change, expected
to take effect in October 2009, is part of widespread changes
to military discipline introduced by the Armed Forces Act 2006.
23. The Commission is currently exploring
with the experts at the Ministry of Justice the viability of a
research project using the 11,000 or so cases the Commission has
handled since its creation to see what useful information might
be extracted about miscarriages of justice.