Following its recent response to the University of Sussex report on legal aid, the CCRC has also fed into the consultation on the same topic – led by the Independent Criminal Legal Aid Review (ICLAR).
The CCRC identified similar themes to the Sussex report – and has thrown its weight behind ICLARs latest review.
“We strongly support the objectives of the Independent Review of Criminal Legal Aid,” said Chairman of the CCRC, Helen Pitcher OBE. “We agree that improving the availability and delivery of high-quality legal advice to our potential applicants will bring corresponding gains in the administration of justice. Importantly, it will help avoid wrongful convictions and assist us in promptly identifying potential miscarriages of justice.”
The CCRC was pleased to see the report acknowledge the link between the declining volume in legally aided applications and the risks that this brings. The number of applicants supported by legal aid has dropped significantly since 2006 when it was 34%. In 2018-2019 it fell to just 10%. Under the current structure of legal aid, the CCRC remains concerned that this has led to a marked decline in the number of practitioners who are able and willing to assist with applications made to the official body investigating potential miscarriages of justice.
In its response the CCRC says that many of its applicants have also applied without exhausting their appeal rights. Another risk faced by those without input from legal representation or the help of legal aid.
“It is valuable to have legal representation but not essential. But some level of legal insight can present stronger applications and therefore speed up the process,” said Helen.
More recently the CCRC has introduced easy read application forms and will accept submissions in any practical format. It can process applications from individuals as well as those made on behalf of people by family, friends, campaign groups, or legal professionals.
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Notes to editors
- 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.
- There are currently nine 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.
- The Commission usually receives around 1,400 applications for reviews (convictions and/or sentences) each year. Since starting work in 1997, the CCRC has referred around 3% of applications to the appeal courts.
- 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”.
- If a case is referred, it is then for the appeal court to decide whether the conviction is unsafe or the sentence unfair.
- 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