What we do
Our principal role is to investigate cases where people have been convicted and lost an appeal, but believe they have been wrongly convicted of a criminal offence.
We can investigate if the conviction is from a magistrates’ court, Crown Court, Court Martial or Service Civilian Court. We can also consider whether someone has been incorrectly sentenced.
Where someone has already tried to appeal their case, but that appeal has failed, the CCRC can investigate the case and consider whether it should go back to the appeal court for a fresh appeal.
Usually, someone convicted of a criminal offence will have only one chance to appeal. Only the Commission has the power to refer a case back to the appeal courts for a fresh appeal.
When we have completed our investigations, we consider whether or not to refer the case to an appeal court. If we do, the appeal court must hear the appeal.
In certain circumstances we can help people who have not already tried to appeal, but these cases are very rare.
New evidence or argument and ‘real possibility’
In order for the Commission to be able to refer a case back to the appeal court, we will almost always need to identify some new evidence or other new issue that might provide grounds for a fresh appeal.
We cannot perform a ‘re-run’ of a trial just because the evidence of the defence was not accepted by the jury and the evidence of the prosecution was. We have to be able to present to the appeal court a new piece of evidence or new legal argument, not identified at the time of the trial, that might have changed the whole outcome of the trial if the jury had been given a chance to consider it.
The CCRC’s investigatory powers and practices
To help us identify new evidence or legal argument we can use our special legal powers under section 17 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 to obtain information from public bodies such as the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, social services, local councils and so on. Under section 18A of the same Act, we can seek a Crown Court order to obtain material from a private individual or organisation. Our legal powers mean that we can often identify important evidence that would be impossible for others to find.
We can also interview new witnesses and re-interview the original ones. If necessary, we can arrange for new expert evidence such as psychological reports and DNA testing.
We look into all cases thoroughly, independently and objectively but the legal rules that govern the work of the Commission means that we can only refer a case if we find that there is a ’real possibility’ that an appeal court would quash the conviction or, in the case of an appeal against sentence, change the sentence in question.
How we use information if you apply
If you apply to the CCRC we will use the information you give us, including your personal information, to help us consider your case. This means that we may decide to use the information you give us to get hold of material belonging to other organisations. This could be information about you or about any other person or subject if we think it could have an impact on your case.
The CCRC has special legal powers get any material or information we think we need to investigate a case even if organisations or individuals do not want us to have it. We often obtain case related information from the police, the courts and other organisations and agencies such as the NHS and social services. Once we have started looking into a case we will decide what material we need.
We are aware of how sensitive the information involved in our investigations can be. We always take great care of the information that we get when looking into cases. We try to obtain only what we need, and we aim to keep the information only for as long as is reasonable in the case.
We are very careful about how and when we share information relating to cases and do so only when it is allowed by the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 and the Data Protection Act 1998.
When as case is referred by the CCRC for an appeal, the information relevant to the appeal is usually shared with the applicant in the case, the appeal court and the prosecution. When a case is referred for appeal we will usually issue a brief press release about the reasons the case is being referred. We may also share information about the applicant with the Miscarriage of Justice Support Service which is a not-for-profit organisation that offers help to people who have been wrongly convicted.
Where are appeals heard?
Where an appeal is heard depends on the court which gave rise to the conviction:
- convictions and sentences from Magistrates Court are appealed in the Crown Court
- convictions and sentences from Crown Court are appealed in the Court of Appeal
- convictions and sentences from a Service Civilian Court are appealed in the Court Martial
- convictions and sentence from Court Martial are appealed in the Court Martial Appeal Court.
Most people apply to the Commission because of convictions or sentences they have received in a Crown Court, so the examples refer to the Court of Appeal as the relevant appeal court, but the our procedures are exactly the same whichever court gives rise to a conviction or sentence.
Our other duties and powers
Reviewing alleged miscarriage of justice is the Commission’s main job, but we have some other significant responsibilities. The Commission can also:
- be asked by the Court of Appeal to investigate and report on an issue in an ongoing appeal it is considering so that it can conclude the case (See section 15 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995)
- be asked for advice by the Secretary of State for Justice when he or she is considering advising Her Majesty the Queen to issue a Royal Pardon
- refer cases to the Secretary of State for Justice where we feel that a Royal Pardon should be considered.
Learn more: Commissioners