• Our main job is to investigate cases where someone has been convicted and lost an appeal, but still says to us that they have been wrongly convicted.  We can also look into whether someone has been incorrectly sentenced

 

  • We can consider cases from a magistrates’ court, the Crown Court, the Court Martial or Service Civilian Court

 

  • Where someone has already tried to appeal their case, but lost their appeal, the CCRC can investigate and consider whether their case can go back to the appeal court for a fresh appeal

 

  • Usually, someone convicted of a crime 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 finished investigating, we consider whether or not to refer the case for appeal. If we do, the appeal court must hear the appeal. They cannot add time to someone’s sentence if we send them the case

 

  • In certain circumstances we can help people who have not already tried to appeal, but these cases are very rare

What it takes to refer a case for appeal – new information and ‘real possibility’

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 give reasons for a fresh appeal.

We have to be able to show the appeal court some new information, that was used at the time of the conviction, or first appeal, and that might have changed the outcome of the case if the jury had known about it. It will not be any use simply to apply to the CCRC saying that the jury got it wrong when they chose to believe the prosecution case instead of the defence, unless there is convincing new information to support that idea.

For us to be able to refer a case for appeal, we have to think the new information is convincing enough that it raises a real possibility that the appeal court will overturn the conviction. If we refer a sentence for appeal, we have to be convinced there is a real possibility that the court will reduce the sentence.

 

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 2018.

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