Commission statement on its review of the 1963 conviction of Dr Stephen Ward (deceased)

The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) has recently sent a document to the representatives of Dr Stephen Ward (deceased) explaining why it will not be referring for appeal Dr Ward’s 1963 conviction for living on the earnings of prostitution.

The proceedings at which Dr Ward was convicted arose out of the infamous Profumo Affair. Dr Ward was tried at the Old Bailey in July 1963 where he pleaded not guilty to two charges that he “knowingly lived wholly or in part on the earnings of prostitution”.

Shortly before the end of the trial Dr Ward took an overdose of prescribed sleeping pills and was absent from court when the jury returned a guilty verdict on 31st July 1963. He died in hospital three days later and therefore no sentence was handed down.

Representatives of Dr Ward, including a member of his family, made an application to the CCRC for a review of the conviction in December 2013.

The submissions raised in the application to the CCRC were published in a book about the case written by Mr Geoffrey Robertson QC1 who has been involved in the application.

The two principal submissions were:

  1. that Dr Ward’s trial was an abuse of process because it was instigated by the government and politically motivated.

  1. The Court of Appeal deliberately failed to disclose information that could have assisted Dr Ward at trial.

The CCRC has conducted a thorough investigation of these two submissions, along with a number of other matters raised by Dr Ward’s representatives, and has followed a number of other lines of enquiry of its own design.

The CCRC has wide-ranging statutory powers to obtain whatever material we think we need to review a case. During the investigations of this case the CCRC has had unimpeded access to material at all levels of the government and the criminal justice system. We have considered a wide range of sources including restricted case files retained by The National Archive, the Metropolitan Police, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Cabinet Office and Lord Denning’s Report on the Profumo Affair and files relating to it.

In relation to the submissions that the trial was politically motivated and therefore an abuse of process, and that the Court of Appeal concealed relevant information, the CCRC has concluded that, in spite of having gone to considerable lengths to access all surviving relevant material, the available records provide no evidence to support those claims.

Those submissions therefore do not give rise to a real possibility2 that the Court of Appeal would overturn Dr Ward’s conviction. In those circumstances the CCRC cannot refer the case on the basis of either submission.

During the course of the review, however, the CCRC did identify considerable merit in a number of other issues which might, arguably, provide grounds upon which we could refer the case for appeal.

The principal issues in that regard were the subsequent conviction for perjury of the prosecution witness Christine Keeler, and the possibility that contemporaneous media coverage of the case may have prejudiced Dr Ward’s trial.

The Commission agrees with Dr Ward’s representatives that there is considerable force in the argument that these matters could affect the safety of the conviction.

However, the particular circumstances of this case meant that the Commission needed to consider whether or not it ought to refer the conviction for appeal even if the statutory criteria for doing so could be met.

The Commission decided to use its discretion not to refer the case to the Court of Appeal on those bases because:

  1. a referral can bring no benefit to the individual concerned since Dr Ward is dead


  1. no public interest would be served by referring a conviction from 1963 because, in the intervening 54 years there have been significant changes to the regulation and operation of the police, the security services, the legal system, the media, and the political system, which mean that any lessons from the case are unlikely to have practical relevance today.

In the Commission’s view, these factors, considered along with the resource implications for the public purse of causing an appeal to be heard, outweigh any benefits that might arguably come from referring the case on the particular points that might have allowed us to do so.

A detailed analysis of the Commission’s investigation and the reasons for our decisions in this case are set out in a 60-page Statement of Reasons.

The document makes clear that, if the case had been a recent one, or if Dr Ward had been alive, the Commission may have decided to refer the case for appeal. It also makes clear that, had we found any evidence of executive or judicial misconduct giving rise to a real possibility that the Court would quash the conviction, we would have referred the case because, notwithstanding the passage of time, there would be a clear public interest in those issues being dealt with in open court.

The Statement of Reasons has been sent to Dr Ward’s formal representatives at Simons Muirhead & Burton Solicitors, 8-9 Frith Street, London, W1D 3JB.

Statutory restrictions on disclosure3 mean that the Commission cannot make the Statement of Reasons public. There are no such restrictions on Mr Ward’s representatives and the Commission has suggested that, acting on the instructions of Dr Ward’s family, they may wish to consider placing the document in the public domain.


This press release was issued by the Criminal Cases Review Commission. For further enquires call 0121 233 1473 or e-mail

Notes for editors

  1. The Commission is an independent body set up under the Criminal Appeal Act 1995. It is responsible for 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.
  1. There are currently 12 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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”.
  1. If a case is referred, it is then for the appeal court to decide whether the conviction is unsafe or the sentence unfair.

1 Stephen Ward was Innocent, OK by Geoffrey Robertson QC, Biteback Publishing, 2013, ISBN 9781849546904.

2Real possibility” refers to the statutory test that the Commission is required to apply when considering whether or not it can refer a case for appeal. The test is set out in section 13, Criminal Appeal Act 1995 and says that, save only in exceptional circumstances, the Commission can only refer a case if it can identify new evidence capable of raising a real possibility that the appeal court would quash the conviction of the referral were to be made.

3 See sections 23, 24 and 25 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995.