The work of the Criminal Cases Review Commission - Justice Committee Contents


Memorandum submitted by the Public and Commercial Services Union

INTRODUCTION

  1.  The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) is the largest trade union within the civil service. It represents over 305,000 members, including around 100 staff in the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the independent body which reviews and investigates alleged miscarriages of justice in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

  2.  The CCRC is the independent body which reviews and investigates alleged miscarriages of justice in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Commission has seen significant cuts to its budget over the last two years, a real terms reduction of some £300,000 year on year and equating to a 10% cut in case review managers. It currently faces a threat of further staff cuts which PCS believes are wholly unneccessary and will have a significant impact on its ability to efficiently review cases.

BACKGROUND

  3.  The CCRC was established in 1997 following a string of high profile miscarriages of justice which shook public confidence in the criminal justice system. Since its inception it has reviewed some of the most prominent cases, including solicitor Sally Clark, wrongly convicted of murdering her two young children, and Barry George, convicted of the murder of Jill Dando. In both of these cases, and many others, the Commission's enquiries revealed fresh evidence which resulted in the convictions being overturned by the Court of Appeal.Owing to the thoroughness with which it conducts reviews the Commission has enjoyed one of the highest reputations amongst public bodies, repeatedly winning praise from defence lawyers and the Court of Appeal. It has also attracted international attention, with a number of countries looking to replicate the Commission within their own justice systems. Norway has already established such a commission having seen its success in Britain.

  4.  PCS believes the budget cuts the CCRC has had to bear, the threat further staff cuts, and the case backlogs that will arise, put its excellent reputation in jeopardy.

BUDGET CUTS

  5.  The Commission has seen significant cuts to its budget over the last two years, amounting to approximately £100,000 year on year. Accounting for inflation, this equates to a real terms reduction of approximately £300,000 year on year. Given that the Commission's annual budget runs at around just £7 million, it has been unable to meet those cuts without cutting core staff.

  6.  It has now announced a further cut of six (15%) caseworkers (including two interns), one of which will be compulsory. We also understand that a further redundancy will be announced in the next few weeks. These cuts are being made at the same time as the Commission has managed to secure an extra £50K to fund a 42% pay increase to its new Chair on appointment. Additionally, the commissioners have agreed to create a new CEO post, to be advertised at around £80-90k. All this whilst four case workers (10%) are about to lose their jobs.

  7.  PCS members working in the CCRC report that as a result of the cuts which have been, and will continue to be, imposed, the last two years will have seen a 20% reduction in the Commission's case working staff—the very people that review cases and uncover miscarriages of justice. This situation will have a significant and negative impact on the Commission's ability to efficiently review cases. We also believe that the cuts are remarkably short sighted, given that any additional time a wrongly convicted person remains in prison increases the level of government compensation they may be entitled to, and is therefore false economy. It is not possible for the Commission to reduce its casework resources to this extent without it leading to longer waiting times before cases are reviewed.

  8.  In the outgoing Chairman's Foreward of the 2008 Annual Report, Graham Zellick stated that last year's cuts of 10% in the case review manager posts is already compromising the improvements made in reducing the waiting times. Any further cuts would damage the Commission's quality and efficiency. At the same time, the new incoming chairman has talked of staff making more referrals to the Appeal court, taking a new "bolder" approach.

CONCLUSION

  9.  The annual budget for the Ministry of Justice is around £8 billion. Of that the Commission accounts for just £7 million. This is a tiny proportion, yet the Commission performs a vital function in helping to maintain public confidence in the criminal Justice system, and ensuring that when mistakes happen or things go wrong they are put right.

  10.  We ask MPs to ask questions regarding:

    —  In the last CCRC Annual Report, the Chairman stated that 10% of caseworker posts have been cut and any further cuts would damage the equality and efficiency of the Commission. The Commission has now announced a further cut of six (15%) caseworkers (including two interns). How can this not now lead to a further backlog in casework?

    —  With further efficiency cuts in the Commission, how does the new Chair intend to take a "bolder" approach by asking staff to go as far as they can to make more referrals to the Appeal Court?

    —  Whilst we understand that budgetary constraints have led to these cuts, the Commission has recently managed to secure an extra £50K to fund a 42% pay increase to the new Chair of the Commission on appointment. In addition to this, a new post of CEO has also been announced, which will cost the Commission a further £80-90K. How can this expenditure be justified against the cutbacks?

    —  The Commission's insistance on making compulsory redundancies without seeking volunteers, in the caseworker post, has led to anger amongst staff whose dedication and goodwill has been crucial in reducing the backlog in casework. This will now most likely lead to industrial action in the CCRC. Will this not damage all the good work done by the Commission so far?

    —  Does the Commission understand the implications of making this one compulsory redundancy when the rest of the civil service has managed 80,000 cuts without resorting to this action? Has the Commission has been too intransigent?

    —  If further cuts in staffing levels lead to ever increasing backlogs, what implications will this have for the criminal justice system?

March 2009





 
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