On 14 March 1991, the convictions of a group of men known as ‘The Birmingham Six’ were overturned by the Court of Appeal after being declared unsafe and unsatisfactory.
Hugh Callaghan, Patrick Joseph Hill, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker were each sentenced to life imprisonment in 1975 for alleged involvement in bombs being exploded in two Birmingham pubs.
The case was one of a number of high-profile convictions from the 1970s that were later recognised as miscarriages of justice, and led to the establishment of a Royal Commission on Criminal Justice in 1991.
The recommendations of the Royal Commission led to the Criminal Appeal Act of 1995 which established the Criminal Cases Review Commission in 1997.
Since then, the CCRC has investigated thousands of applications of potential miscarriages of justice – and sent 810 cases back to the courts on the basis that there is a real possibility they will overturn the conviction, resulting in 551 convictions or sentences being overturned.
CCRC chairman Helen Pitcher OBE said:
“The overturning of the Birmingham Six’s convictions 32 years ago today changed the course of history for the correction of miscarriages of justice in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
“The CCRC’s creation – and the help we have given to hundreds of people who had been wrongly convicted or sentenced – was a lasting legacy of that impactful decision by the Court of Appeal.
“The CCRC remains committed to upholding fairness, equality and the integrity of the justice system, and I am very proud of the work we do to investigate and where appropriate refer cases that should be reconsidered by the courts.”
At no cost to applicants, the CCRC reviews criminal cases where applicants believe that they have been wrongly convicted or wrongly sentenced.
If the organisation finds something wrong with a conviction or sentence, they can send the case back to the relevant appeal court. Barring exceptional circumstances, to refer a case the CCRC usually relies on significant new evidence or argument that was not available during the court proceedings that led to the conviction or sentence.