Established by Section 8 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 we began on 31 March 1997.
How the CCRC came into being
The CCRC was created on 31 March 1997, but our creation stems from Section 8 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995.
We have the power to send or refer a case back to an appeal court if we consider that there is a real possibility the court will quash the conviction or reduce the sentence in that case. Before our creation, the only option for a case which had already been to the Court of Appeal (or Northern Ireland Court of Appeal) was a direct appeal to the Home Secretary or the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Only they had the power to order the court to hear a case again.
This power was limited to cases tried on indictment. Only four to five cases were referred each year out of around 700 applications. This was also reactive because the Home Secretary / Northern Ireland Secretary only considered the issues raised by the applicant or his/her representatives and could not investigate or seek new grounds for appeal.
As you would expect this paved the way for frequent criticism since the same person with responsibility for the police had access to the Court of Appeal giving them complete control over the overturning of a conviction.
In the 1970s there was a series of high-profile cases where the convictions were later recognised as miscarriages of justice: The Guildford Four (1974); The Birmingham Six (1975); The Maguire Seven (1976) and Judith Ward (1974). These cases featured false confessions, police misconduct, non-disclosure and issues about the reliability of expert forensic testimony. An additional factor, which doubtless impacted on the decision-making during both the investigation and prosecution of these cases, was their high public profile and the pressure to obtain convictions and restore public confidence.
The weaknesses in the criminal justice system exposed by these cases led to the establishment of a Royal Commission on Criminal Justice in 1991. Its remit included considering changes in the arrangements for viewing and investigating allegations of miscarriages of justice when appeal rights have been exhausted. Evidence was gathered over a two-year period.
The Report of the Royal Commission was published July 1993. The Royal Commission (adopting the view expressed by Sir John May in his Inquiry into the Guildford and Woolwich bombings) took the view that the arrangements for referral of cases back to the courts were incompatible with the constitutional separation of powers as between the courts and the executive.
The recommendations of the Royal Commission led to the Criminal Appeal Act of 1995 which established the Criminal Cases Review Commission.