CCRC disclosure review update

The second phase of the Criminal Cases Review Commission’s internal review of disclosure is now well underway with more than twenty detailed reviews completed.

The CCRC undertook in July 2018 to conduct a review of how disclosure had been handled by the police and the CPS in a specific sample of cases that the Commission had already considered as applications. The chosen sample consisted of 306 rape cases considered by the Commission between April 2016 and March 2018.

The aim of the exercise is:

a) to consider in each case the approach of, and the interaction between, the CPS and the Police in relation to disclosure, and

b) to consider the approach in the CCRC review to the disclosure process in the prosecutions in question.

Of the 306 cases considered at stage one, a sample of 61 (20%) are being subjected to closer scrutiny by the Commission in stage two.

In each of 61 stage two cases the Commission is using its statutory powers under section 17 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 to obtain (or re-obtain) all the relevant police and CPS files.

The amount of material received so far has varied between a slim A4 file of a few dozen pages and more than 20 boxes full of material amounting to many thousands of pages. Two boxes full of papers has been typical. The material has included written records in digital format and various types of digital media such as CCTV footage on DVD, but has overwhelmingly consisted of paper files.

The Commission has for the purposes of stage two of the review engaged the help of three barristers currently working in private practice defending and prosecuting criminal cases and who also have knowledge of the Commission and how it works by virtue of having worked here earlier in their careers. Along with a handful of current CCRC staff overseen by a Commissioner, the team involved in stage two are studying the handling of pre-trial disclosure by both the Police and the CPS in each case and also looking at how the Commission dealt with disclosure matters in relation to its own post-conviction (and usually post-appeal) reviews of the cases.

Stage three of the review will consist of producing a written report analysing the disclosure review and its findings and identifying any issues of particular concern and any areas of good practice. When complete the report and its findings will be shared with any criminal justice agencies to which it is relevant and will also be published on the CCRC website.

The Commission does not intend to make any interim comments before the review and report are finished. However, we will take any steps necessary if the review reveals something which requires urgent action; no such need has arisen so far.

In spite of being slightly behind schedule with stage two of the review, the Commission aims to complete the whole exercise on time and to produce its report as planned in March 2019.

The Commission’s earlier statements on its disclosure review containing more information about the origin, methodology and sample selection in stages one and two can be found here and here.

In light recent concerns about disclosure issues in the justice system the CCRC has produced some specific words of guidance for applicants and potential applicants who think that disclosure may be an issue in their case. That guidance can be found here.

This press release was issued by Justin Hawkins, Head of Communication, Criminal Cases Review Commission, on 0121 232 0906 or e-mail press@ccrc.gov.uk

Notes for editors

1.    The Commission is an independent body set up under the Criminal Appeal Act 1995. It is responsible for independently reviewing suspected and alleged miscarriages of criminal justice in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is based in Birmingham and is funded by the Ministry of Justice.

2.    There are currently 10 Commissioners who bring to the Commission considerable experience from a wide variety of backgrounds. Commissioners are appointed by the Queen on the recommendation of the Prime Minister in accordance with the Office for the Commissioner for Public Appointments’ Code of Practice.

3.    The Commission usually receives around 1,500 applications for reviews (convictions and/or sentences) each year.  Typically, around 3.5%, or one in 29, of all applications are referred to the appeal courts.

4.    The Commission considers whether, as a result of new evidence or argument, there is a real possibility that the conviction would not be upheld were a reference to be made.  New evidence or argument is argument or evidence which has not been raised during the trial or on appeal.  Applicants should usually have appealed first. A case can be referred in the absence of new evidence or argument or an earlier appeal only if there are “exceptional circumstances”.

5.    If a case is referred, it is then for the appeal court to decide whether the conviction is unsafe or the sentence unfair.

6.  More details about the role and work of the Criminal Cases Review Commission can be found at www.ccrc.gov.uk The Commission can be found on Twitter using @ccrcupdate