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CCRC refers conviction due to concerns about prosecution witness

The Criminal Cases Review Commission (“CCRC”) has today decided to refer Mr Uthayathas Balasubramaniam’s 2004 conviction for conspiracy to commit assault occasioning actual bodily harm to the Court of Appeal, after new information came to light about a key prosecution witness.

On 6 November 2001 Sellathurai Balasingham was attacked and beaten to death by a group of men near to his home in South London. Mr Balasubramaniam was one of a number of men charged with his murder. Prior to his trial at the Old Bailey, one of Mr Balasubramaniam’s co-defendants offered to plead guilty to a lesser offence and give evidence for the prosecution.

The prosecution case against Mr Balasubramaniam relied upon a version of events provided by this man, who became the principal prosecution witness. Before giving evidence at the trial, he disappeared and his statement was read to the jury under the “hearsay” provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. The jury acquitted Mr Balasubramaniam of murder but convicted him of conspiracy to commit actual bodily harm. Mr Balasubramaniam unsuccessfully appealed against his conviction in 2010.

Following several appeals and re-trials, the Court of Appeal quashed the convictions of all but one of Mr Balasubramaniam’s co-defendants in 2011. During those proceedings new information came to light, including an undisclosed “deal” with the prosecution, which called into question this witness’s credibility.

The CCRC was contacted by Mr Balasubramaniam in April 2019. Following a detailed review of his case, the CCRC has decided that there is a real possibility that the Court of Appeal will now quash his conviction because this witness can no longer be regarded as credible.

CCRC Chairman Helen Pitcher said: “This case is a good example of why the CCRC is such an important part of our Criminal Justice System. New information has come to light, years after Mr Balasubramaniam’s trial which now calls into the question the safety of his conviction. We’ve carried out a thorough, independent review of the case and decided that it needs to be looked at again by the Court of Appeal.”

Mr Balasubramaniam is a Sri Lankan national who voluntarily returned to Sri Lanka in 2012 when his various applications for leave to remain in the UK were refused. There is a Home Office exclusion order against him preventing his return to the UK although his spouse is a UK resident.

The CCRC is also appealing for Mr Balasubramaniam’s final co-defendant, Mr Kumarasritharan Mukundan, to come forward, so his case can be considered too.

Mr Balasubramaniam was represented by James Nicholls of Birds Solicitors Ltd in his application to the CCRC.

Ends.

This press release was issued by the Communications Team, Criminal Cases Review Commission. They can be contacted by phone on 0121 232 0900 or by emailpress@ccrc.gov.uk. 

Notes for editors 

  1. The Criminal Cases Review Commission (“CCRC”) 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 11 Commissioners who bring to the CCRC 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 CCRC usually receives around 1,400 applications for reviews (of convictions and/or sentences) each year. Since starting work in 1997, the CCRC has referred around 3% of applications to the appeal courts. 
  4. The CCRC considers whether, as a result of new evidence or argument, there is a real possibility that a conviction and/or sentence 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 CCRC can also be found on Twitter: @ccrcupdate and Instagram: the_ccrc