Hope for the innocent?
Press release issued: 16 December 2009
The role of the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) — the independent public body set up to investigate possible miscarriages of justice — is questioned in a new book launched today [16 Dec] at a reception hosted by David Lammy, Minister of State for Higher Education, at the House of Commons in London.
The book, ‘The Criminal Cases Review Commission: Hope for the Innocent?’ edited by Dr Michael Naughton, Senior Lecturer in the School of Law and the Department of Sociology at the University of Bristol, examines the CCRC’s responsibilities for assessing whether convictions or sentences should be referred to a court of appeal.
The book also highlights that contrary to public opinion the CCRC does not consider innocence or guilt but seeks new evidence or argument that may cast doubt on the safety of an original decision. It also explores the limitations placed on the CCRC by its governing statute, which hinder its independence from the appeal courts, and its working practices, which prevent the referral of cases in which victims may be factually innocent.
This means that people who may be innocent and who are unable to fulfil this criteria will stay in prison, as the CCRC does not conduct full investigations of claims of innocence. Neither will the CCRC look for proof of innocence in unused evidence available at the time of the original trial, as it is unlikely to yield grounds for appeal because it is not fresh.
Bringing together critical perspectives from campaigners, prominent criminal appeal practitioners, victim support workers and leading academics, the book compares the CCRC with existing systems in Scotland, the US and Canada that deal with alleged wrongful convictions.
Dr Naughton said: “It seems incontrovertible that evidence of factual innocence must always be grounds for referring the cases of alleged innocent victims of wrongful conviction and imprisonment back to the appeal courts to be overturned.
“The book’s assessment is that the CCRC is not what was envisaged by the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice that was prompted by the public crisis of confidence in the entire criminal justice system by notorious cases such as the Guildford Four, Birmingham Six, and so on, and whose main recommendation established the CCRC. As such, an urgent need remains for an official body to assist the growing number of alleged innocent victims of wrongful conviction and imprisonment who are unable to overturn their convictions under the existing arrangements.”
Comments about 'The Criminal Cases Review Commission: Hope for the Innocent?' include:
'Dr Michael Naughton's timely and authoritative book comprehensively destroys the myth that the central mission of the CCRC is to correct wrongful convictions of the innocent.' Professor Mike McConville, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
'This is a timely and provocative volume, which draws attention to the limitations of Criminal Cases Review Commission and similar institutions…It ought to act as a useful antidote to any sense of complacency on the part of those responsible for rectifying such miscarriages.' Professor Peter Duff, former member of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission
'The CCRC is an extremely important experiment - a government institution dedicated to investigating miscarriages of justice - that jurists all across the world are following with profound interest. Dr Michael Naughton's thorough and insightful book raises critical issues the CCRC must address, especially the apparent tendency to elevate concerns about procedure above the CCRC's core mission to find a best approximation of the truth and fairness in an individual's case.’ Barry Scheck, Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Innocence Project, USA
Dr Michael Naughton is Senior Lecturer in the School of Law and the Department of Sociology, at the University of Bristol, UK. He is the Founder and Director of the Innocence Network UK (INUK), the umbrella organisation for approximately 25 member innocence projects in universities in England, Scotland and Wales. He is Founder and Director of the University of Bristol Innocence Project, through which he coordinates student reviews and investigations of alleged wrongful imprisonment of the innocent case. He is also a Steering Group member of Progressing Prisoners Maintaining Innocence, which is actively engaged various governmental and non-governmental organisations. He has written widely on miscarriages of justice and the wrongful conviction of the innocent and is the author of 'Rethinking Miscarriages of Justice: Beyond the Tip of the Iceberg'.
The Criminal Cases Review Commission is an independent public body set up to review possible miscarriages of justice and decide if they should be referred to an appeal court. It was set up as a non-departmental body on 1 January 1997 and took over responsibility from the Home Office and Northern Ireland Office for reviewing suspected miscarriages of justice on 31 March 1997. The Commission has jurisdiction over criminal cases at any Magistrates’ or Crown Court in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The role of the CCRC is to review the cases of those that feel they have been wrongly convicted of criminal offences, or unfairly sentenced. The CCRC does not consider innocence or guilt, but whether there is new evidence or argument that may cast doubt on the safety of an original decision. Once the CCRC has completed their investigations into a case, they can refer it back to the appropriate appeal court for re-consideration.