'The Criminal Cases Review Commission plays a vital role in the criminal justice system. Discuss

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  1. ‘The Criminal Cases Review Commission plays a vital role in the criminal justice system.’


Actual word length: 2099 words including footnotes.

The criminal justice system aims to deliver a fair justice process for the public and aspire to convict the guilty and acquit the innocent. This aspiration however strikes in contrast to reality. The human courts are fallible that commit mistakes and innocent people do get convicted (Naughton, 2007:20). The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), an independent public body, aims to act as an additional safeguard to the appeal system and review possible miscarriages of justices. The CCRC, however, has been ineffective and does not play a vital role.

This essay will discuss on the reasons why the CCRC fails to play a vital role. Reasons include the procedural framework, way of investigation, long waiting time before a decision is reached and its establishment leading to misguided perception of the system. There are several definitions of miscarriage of justice but in this discussion, we will use the laymen’s term – to acquit the innocent and convict the guilty.

First, the limitation on the CCRC’s power to refer has resulted it in not playing a vital role. Section 13(1)(a) of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 states that CCRC can only refer cases if it is felt that ‘there is a real possibility that the conviction would not be upheld were the reference to be made’. Consequently, CCRC has to ‘look forward’ by second-guessing how the Court of Appeal (CA) might decide based on its criteria for quashing convictions and whether it would find the conviction to be unsafe (Eady, 2006). This limit was self-imposed by the Home Secretary under section 17 of Criminal Appeal Act 1968 and the establishment of CCRC was partly to circumvent this limit (Naughton, 2012:207). Sir John May pointed out that the self-imposed limit taken by the Home Secretary resulted in a ‘substantially restricted view of cases’ being considered (RCCJ, 1993:182). However, by introducing this limit in statutory form, CCRC has instead further exacerbated the problem previously raised by the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice Report (RCCJ).

Moreover, according to section 13(1)(b)(i), the evidence or argument must have not been raised in proceedings before.  Therefore, the CCRC has to also ‘look backward’ by how the appeal courts have arrived in its decision and is likely to exclude arguments that have been rejected (Naughton, 2009:27). This would mean that there must be fresh evidence in order for the CCRC to make a referral but this criterion was already found to be unsatisfactory as noted in RCCJ. The requirement for fresh evidence is however made more stringent as CCRC referrals are not regarded as first appeals like how referrals by the Home Secretary did. Hence, every repeated referral by CCRC must have evidence that is not mentioned in the previous appeal. Only the freshest will do. Until now, only the case of Tony Stock has been referred to the CA twice by the CCRC (Robins, 2014). The high success rate of referral and low number of cases referred to CA indicate that CCRC are ‘excessively cautious’ and perhaps, the CCRC should consider referring cases with ‘less than a probability’ of success and this way, more alleged victims of wrongful convictions would be assisted (Sanders and Young, 2010:652). It might be practical for CCRC to ‘take notice of signals’ from CA but it would be no different from the C3 Division it replaced. Therefore, it is evident that the requirement to provide fresh evidence remains a difficult hurdle for the factually innocent defendants as the CCRC’s ability to refer miscarriages of justice are considerably constrained.

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This restriction has resulted the court in prioritising the safety of the convictions, rather than the factual innocence of a defendant, as noted by Lord Justice Roach in R v Hickey. The CCRC was introduced when innocent victims such as the Birmingham Six were unable to overturn their convictions through existing post-appeal mechanism, resulting in a crisis of public confidence of the criminal justice system. However, section 13 of Criminal Appeal Act 1995 meant that the CCRC is working against its historical background and RCCJ’s vision – whether a factually innocent defendant was convicted and the ‘fairness of the outcome’. ...

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