21 May 2021
Three new Commissioners have been appointed to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC).
Zahra Ahmed, Joanne Fazakerley, and Nicola Cockburn have been named as the latest additions to the team – and were three of over 700 people who applied. They are set to join the Commission this summer.
The fresh appointments will bring the team of Commissioners at the CCRC to eleven – including Chairman, Helen Pitcher OBE: “We’re delighted that Zahra, Joanne and Nicola have agreed to join us,” said Helen. The recruitment process was very rigorous, as you would expect, and the standard of applications we received was incredibly high. We will shortly be starting a further round of Commissioner recruitment in order to help expedite the cases submitted to us even more quickly.”
With past stints ranging from Refuge and Migrant Justice, Family Court and the Serious Fraud Office, the trio boast a combined total of nearly 50 years’ legal experience between them.
A practising barrister, Zahra Ahmed had a spell with the Serious Fraud Office and her practice specialises in the regulation of health care professionals. Joanne Fazakerley practices in family and childcare law and began her career in criminal law and still offers free legal advice on family law matters. After qualifying as a Solicitor in 2005, Nicola Cockburn specialised in immigration and asylum law, and presently sits as a Judge of the First-tier Tribunal, Immigration and Asylum Chamber.
The Commissioners expect to take up their new positions from June.
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Notes to editors
Quotes and biographies
Zahra Ahmed is a practising barrister with specialist experience in regulatory, public law, immigration and crime.
She has a practice in the regulation of health care professionals. She provides legal advice and recommendations on the disposal of cases, in order to assist regulators in discharging the duty to protect the public. Zahra presents cases before professional disciplinary panels and she has previously worked in-house as a lawyer at the General Pharmaceutical Council.
Zahra has served as Junior Counsel to the Undercover Policing Inquiry. The Inquiry was commissioned in 2015 by the Home Secretary amidst allegations of misuse of power by police units dedicated to monitoring political protest. Zahra was responsible for serious and sensitive investigations into the conduct of police officers. Her role required independent and sound judgement when examining documents and testimonials, in light of the public interest in the issue, taking into account interests of all parties affected.
Whilst practising as a tenant at 2 Kings Bench Walk Chambers, Zahra was instructed by the Crown Prosecution Service as a Grade 2 Prosecutor on the CPS Advocates Panel. The independence of a prosecutor is central to the criminal justice system of a democratic society. Zahra acted independently to police and other investigators. She has appeared in the Crown Court involving a broad spectrum of offences, including fraud, sexual offences and serious offences of violence.
Zahra has previously completed a secondment to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) where she assisted on the high-profile investigation concerning manipulation of the Euro Interbank Offered Rate (EURIBOR), which lead to three convictions at Southwark Crown Court in 2016.
Zahra has extensive experience in legal analysis and narrowing down the issues in criminal and civil proceedings, bringing cases to a fair conclusion.
Zahra said: “I am delighted and honoured by my appointment as Commissioner. I see this as a responsibility and rare opportunity to give value through independent consideration and scrutiny in cases where there may have been miscarriages of justice. I will do my utmost to meet the high standards set by previous and existing Commissioners – and I look forward to contributing to the invaluable work of the Commission.”
Joanne is a consultant solicitor practising in family and childcare law. She is a member of the Law Society’s Children Panel and represents both parents and children in public and private law matters. She has been involved in cases heard in the High Court and regularly appears as an advocate within the Family Court.
She started her career working in criminal law and prison law. She has represented defendants in the police station, Magistrates Court, Crown Court and during adjudications within the prison across the country. Joanne is a duty accredited solicitor and has acted as a supervising solicitor.
Joanne has provided support at Liverpool John Moores University, offering free legal advice on family law related matters.
Joanne was formerly a director at a childcare law practice.
Joanne said: ““I am very grateful for the opportunity to join the team and look forward to fulfilling my duties as a Commissioner!”
Nicola presently sits as a Judge of the First-tier Tribunal, Immigration and Asylum Chamber. She qualified as a Solicitor in 2005 and practiced primarily in the not-for-profit sector, specialising in immigration and asylum law. Nicola worked in organisations including Refugee and Migrant Justice (formerly Refugee Legal Centre), and Lambeth Law Centre. She has represented a diverse range of vulnerable clients before the Immigration Tribunals and the higher courts, including unaccompanied children, and survivors of trafficking and torture. Nicola was previously a volunteer Director of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (2011 to 2013), and she has sat as an Independent Funding and Costs Adjudicator hearing legal aid appeals in public law cases (2014 to 2017).
Nicola is now a Freelance Lecturer at BPP University, London, having previously worked at the university as a Lecturer (2015 to 2019). She teaches Constitutional Law and Public Law, and she has worked on programme design projects.
Nicola said: “The Commission has a uniquely important role in relation to the criminal justice system, and I am looking forward to contributing to such vital work. I’m delighted to be joining them.”
The role of our Commissioners
Decisions about whether or not cases can be referred are always taken by one or more of our Commissioners who are chosen for their professional experience and ability to make important decisions in complicated matters. Cases are generally passed to Commissioners on a ‘cab rank’ basis. All our Commissioners decide all types of cases. Commissioners are appointed by the Queen on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.
- 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 eight 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