- The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) Annual Report was published today
- After CCRC referral, 57 convictions or sentences overturned by courts in the last year
- CCRC received applications from inmates in 82% of English, Welsh & N. Irish prisons
DOZENS of people who suffered miscarriages of justice had their convictions quashed or sentence reduced this year, the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) has revealed today.
This year the CCRC is marking its 25th anniversary as the only organisation in England, Wales and Northern Ireland that can send cases back to appellate courts on behalf of people who feel they have been wrongly convicted or sentenced.
The CCRC’s Annual Report 2021/22 has shown that in the last year, 57 cases referred back to the courts by the CCRC were overturned – meaning that during its quarter century of operation a total of 540 convictions or sentences have now been overturned thanks to CCRC referral.
The report also outlines the CCRC’s overhaul of its IT systems and processes to make it easier for people to apply for a free review of criminal convictions – and people can now apply directly online or by calling a new freephone number.
CCRC Chairman Helen Pitcher OBE said:
“This has been a busy year and I am proud of my team who have yet again worked tirelessly to help victims of miscarriages of justice.
“No system is foolproof and there will always be errors in criminal justice, so we encourage anybody who has new evidence casting doubt on their conviction to apply for our free investigation service.
“We anticipate that post-pandemic our applications will increase, due to pent-up demand in prisons, greater activity through the criminal courts and the longer-term plan for more police officers and more prison spaces.”
The annual report outlines details of the overturned convictions, which include the most widespread miscarriage of justice in British history against Post Office workers convicted on the basis of unreliable evidence gained from an IT system suffering a range of bugs, errors and defects.
Other referrals included the latest in a series of a corrupt Detective Sergeant’s historic convictions, cases involving disputed evidence and discredited witnesses.
The CCRC is the very last stage of the criminal justice system, and if their investigation finds important evidence that wasn’t used at trial or a new legal argument, such as a change in the law, the case can be referred back to the appeal court.
Karen Kneller, the CCRC’s Chief Executive and Accounting Officer, said:
“This has been a year of many changes, including the lifting of covid restrictions – meaning we have been able to once again visit prisons and speak to potential applicants. To help people access our free service more easily, we have also launched a new website.
“We have also moved into a new office in Birmingham. Our new IT system gives us incredible agility to do most roles remotely, but the office serves as the heart of the organisation.
“One thing that hasn’t changed is our commitment to finding and investigating miscarriages of justice, and the impact of our work has been clear with dozens of convictions and sentences being overturned following CCRC referral.”
A total of 1,198 applications were received in the last year – an increase of almost 5% from the previous year.
Around 40% of all CCRC applications came from people who still could, and in most cases should, appeal directly to the courts.
Other new statistics revealed in the report included that during the last business year;
- 64% of applications came from serving prisoners
- The CCRC was asked to investigate cases from inmates in 119 of the 145 prisons in England, Wales and Northern Ireland
- 22% of applicants reported having a disability and 24.4% identified as an ethnic minority
- There were also noteworthy rises this year in applications from women (5.6% to 6.8%) and those aged under 21 (1.8% to 2.8%)
- 84.2% of cases were completed within 12 months – just short of the target of 85%
- A further 605 applications were still under review by the CCRC at the end of the business year
In line with recommendations from the Westminster Commission report, the CCRC also conducted an internal review this year, and the report outlines improvements to applicant communications, decision documents, the use of provisional decisions and exceptional circumstances.
Convictions overturned after referral by the CCRC:
Arson, Assault with intention to rob, Attempted robbery, Dishonestly making a false representation, Encouraging or assisting offences, False Accounting, False imprisonment, Manslaughter, Murder, Possession of a false passport, Theft, Unlawfully having an offensive weapon, Wounding with intent to cause GBH
Sentences reduced after referral by the CCRC:
Conspiracy to supply mephedrone; Grievous Bodily Harm with intent
During 2021/22, the courts quashed 47 convictions against Post Office workers – adding to more convictions that were overturned last year. This constituting the most widespread miscarriage of justice in British history. The convictions related to a variety of offences that were linked to theft and false accounting.
The Court accepted that the original prosecutions were founded on the basis that financial information produced by the Horizon computer system was reliable. However, new evidence of defects in the software that had not been disclosed to the defendants cast doubt on the integrity of the original investigation and prosecution.
The CCRC has continued its investigations into the historical racist and corrupt practices of former Detective Sergeant Derek Ridgewell of the British Transport Police (BTP) – who fabricated evidence that led to convictions that have lasted long after his death in 1982.
After himself being imprisoned for conspiracy to rob, Ridgewell admitted that he had been corrupt while working for BTP. CCRC investigations have determined that Ridgewell would arrest and fabricate confessions from predominantly young black men at London tube stations for crimes they did not commit.
In 1972, six young black men from London were charged of assault with intent to rob Ridgewell himself on an underground train between Stockwell and Oval tube stations. All six maintained the incident had not happened but, on the evidence presented by Ridgewell to the Court, five were convicted while one was acquitted.
Almost half a century later, following referral by the CCRC the convictions against Courtney Harriot, Paul Green, Cleveland Davidson and Texo Johnson were finally quashed in 2021.
Following a previous referral by the CCRC, in 2019 the Court also quashed 47-year old convictions against the ‘Oval Four’ for supposedly stealing train passengers’ handbags.
Work remains underway in order to trace others that may have been wrongly convicted on the basis of Ridgewell’s testimony in other cases.
Thomas ‘Brian’ Williams – posthumous acquittal
The Shrewsbury 24 were trade union members who were charged with intimidation against non-unionised colleagues following the 1972 building workers’ strike. At trials, 22 of the 24 men were convicted. Following CCRC referral, the Court of Appeal had previously quashed 14 of the convictions on grounds relating to the destruction of witness statements and a failure to disclose this fact.
Mr Williams died in 2013, and in September 2021 his daughter-in-law asked the CCRC to posthumously review his case. The CCRC was satisfied that it was in the public interest to refer Mr Williams’ conviction, which was subsequently quashed by the Court.
The CCRC is currently making enquiries to try and locate the remaining seven men and/or their next of kin.
Notes to editors
- You can read the CCRC’s Annual Report here.
- The 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.
- There are currently 11 Commissioners who bring to the CCRC considerable experience from a wide variety of backgrounds. Commissioners are appointed by the monarch on the recommendation of the Prime Minister in accordance with the Office for the Commissioner for Public Appointments’ Code of Practice.
- The CCRC 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 CCRC can be found on Twitter @ccrcupdate and Instagram the_ccrc