As the official public body we have a statutory responsibility to investigate alleged miscarriages of justice in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
Our investigatory powers and practices
To help us identify new evidence or legal argument we can use our special legal powers under section 17 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 to obtain information from public bodies such as the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, social services, local councils and so on.
Under section 18A of the same Act, we can seek a Crown Court order to obtain material from a private individual or organisation.
Our legal powers mean that we can often identify important evidence that would be impossible for others to find.
We can also interview new witnesses and re-interview the original ones. If necessary, we can arrange for new expert evidence such as psychological reports and DNA testing.
We look into all cases thoroughly, independently, and objectively but the legal rules that govern the work of the Commission means that we can only refer a case if we find that there is a ’real possibility’ that an appeal court would quash the conviction or, in the case of an appeal against sentence, change the sentence in question.
The CCRC is a prescribed body under the legislation dealing with the making of public interest disclosures (whistleblowing). This means that, quite apart from our statutory responsibility to deal with the applications we receive, we are the body to which individuals can report concerns of actual or potential miscarriages of justice.
As Chief Executive of the CCRC, Karen Kneller is the prescribed person within the meaning of section 43F of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 to whom individuals with such concerns can make protected disclosures. The Prescribed Persons (Report of Disclosures of Information) Regulations 2017 require the CCRC to report annually on any such disclosures made to us, how they were handled and what actions were taken. During 2021/22 we received no disclosures.
What it takes to refer a case for appeal – new information and ‘real possibility’
For the Commission to be able to refer a case back to the appeal court, we will almost always need to identify some new evidence or other new issue that might give reasons for a fresh appeal.
We must be able to show the appeal court some new information, that was used at the time of the conviction, or first appeal, and that might have changed the outcome of the case if the jury had known about it. It will not be any use simply to apply to the CCRC saying that the jury got it wrong when they chose to believe the prosecution case instead of the defence unless there is convincing new information to support that idea.
For us to be able to refer a case for appeal, we must think the new information is convincing enough that it raises a real possibility that the appeal court will overturn the conviction. If we refer a sentence for appeal, we must be convinced there is a real possibility that the court will reduce the sentence.
Where are appeals heard?
Where an appeal is heard depends on the court which gave rise to the conviction:
- convictions and sentences from Magistrates Court are appealed in the Crown Court
- convictions and sentences from Crown Court are appealed in the Court of Appeal
- convictions and sentences from a Service Civilian Court are appealed in the Court Martial
- convictions and sentence from Court Martial are appealed in the Court Martial Appeal Court
Most people apply to the Commission because of convictions or sentences they have received in a Crown Court, so the examples refer to the Court of Appeal as the relevant appeal court, but our procedures are the same whichever court gives rise to a conviction or sentence.
Our other duties and powers
Reviewing alleged miscarriages of justice is the Commission’s main job, but we have some other significant responsibilities. The Commission can also:
- be asked by the Court of Appeal to investigate and report on an issue in an ongoing appeal it is considering so that it can conclude the case (See section 15 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995)
- be asked for advice by the Secretary of State for Justice when he or she is considering advising Her Majesty the Queen to issue a Royal Pardon
- refer cases to the Secretary of State for Justice where we feel that a Royal Pardon should be considered