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A report into the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) has recommended a number of improvements to the way in which criminal appeals are handled. This includes a more objective test that will help the CCRC determine whether a conviction may be unsafe.
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Our criminal defence solicitors deal with all aspects of criminal law, including appeals. If you have been accused of a criminal offence, or you have already been convicted, contact us now for free legal advice. We are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
What are the Criminal Cases Review Commission?
The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) is an independent organisation that investigates suspected miscarriages of justice in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It examines decisions made in Magistrates’ Courts and Crown Courts and considers whether the conviction might be unsafe. If so, the case is referred to the Court of Appeal for review.
Report into the CCRC
The work of the CCRC was recently examined by an All-Party Parliamentary Group to see whether any improvements could be made to the criminal appeals process. Their findings have now been published in a report. The report makes a number of recommendations, including the creation of a new legal test and better communication with applicants.
New legal test
Currently, the CCRC only refers cases to the Court of Appeal if it considers that there is a ‘real possibility of success at appeal. The report considers this legal test to be too restrictive and suggests that it is changed to a more objective test. For example, it could be that the CCRC should refer to a case if it considers:
- The conviction may be unsafe
- The sentence is manifestly wrong or wrong in law
- That it is in the interests of justice to make a referral
Until the test is amended, the report urges the CCRC to be bolder in applying the current test. This would enhance its ability to refer cases to the Court of Appeal in exceptional circumstances.
Interestingly, the report also recommends that the Law Commissions conducts a review into the test applied by the Court of Appeal, to allow it to quash a conviction where it has serious doubt about the verdict, even without fresh evidence or a new legal argument.
Increased funding criminal case review
While the report recognises the CCRC’s excellent investigative work, it points towards the CCRC’s target-driven culture and restricted financial budget. The report says that this compromises the CCRC’s effectiveness, as it prioritises speed over thoroughness. An increased caseload only adds to its burden. The report recommends that the Ministry of Justice should:
- Provide increased funding to the CCRC so that it can recruit more staff and implement other recommendations
- Raise the financial eligibility criteria for advice and assistance with CCRC and the Court of Appeal matters
- Increase the rates payable to solicitors for work undertaken under the legal aid scheme
With increased resources, the CCRC would be able to examine all relevant documents, carry out face-to-face enquiries and take advice from external forensic experts.
Better communication with applicants
The report found insufficient communication between the CCRC and those who apply to have their convictions reviewed. The report says the CCRC should be more open with applicants and their representatives. This includes disclosing actions taken, providing meaningful (and regular) updates, and more informative statements regarding the reasons for a decision.
Specialist unit for juvenile cases
The CCRC is praised for its efforts in reaching out to juveniles. However, the report recommends that this should be taken a step further, with the creation of a specialist juvenile unit within the CCRC. This would deal specifically with youth justice cases. It also recommends that advocacy services in under-18 custodial establishments should provide advice regarding CCRC applications.
Do you have grounds for appeal?
If you have been convicted of a criminal offence, there might still be further action you can take. We can review whether you have grounds for an appeal. If so, we will make an application to the CCRC.
Contact us now for initial free legal advice. Call us on 0333 009 6275. We are available to take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
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