Following a successful event in London in March, The Justice Gap held a debate in Manchester on “Who Investigates Miscarriages of Justice” jointly hosted by leading Manchester barristers’ chambers, Garden Court North.
I was delighted to be invited again to join a panel that included fellow lawyers Mark Newby and Robert Lizar, leading investigative journalists Eric Allison and David Jessel, academic Dr Hannah Quirk and chair of the Criminal Cases Review Commission, Richard Foster.
With Pete Wetherby QC as moderator, the panel addressed current concerns about the criminal justice system, why miscarriages of justice arise, how they may be remedied and why it matters. A capacity audience including lawyers, students and campaigners expressed their worries about the current system and whether it would be damaged by further cuts to the Legal Aid budget and continuing pressure on the CCRC.
We heard from Susan May who spoke eloquently about her 20-year fight to clear her name following her conviction for the murder of her aunt and her worry about an impending Government review of the CCRC.
Richard Foster confirmed that, as for any publicly funded body, the Commission was due for its triennial review later this year and, in principle, it would have to satisfy the review that it was fit for purpose and, for example, should not have its role taken back to within the Ministry of Justice.
While most of us agreed that the Commission had room for improvement there was overwhelming support for it as a body and those of us who had experience of trying to get convictions overturned prior to its inception in 1997 expressed horror at a return to what were “the bad old days”.
My own view, shared by many on the panel, is that we again have a conservative Court of Appeal, determined to reduce the number of appeals, apparently unconvinced of their merit and that the Court had been encouraged by politicians from all the major parties who seem to compete to be seen as the toughest on crime. The stated desire to rebalance the system in favour of the victim risks causing more wrongful convictions and I took the opportunity of making the point that to have the wrong person convicted of an offence in no way helps the victim. I also reminded the audience of the devastating impact on the life of someone who is the victim of miscarriage of justice, in some instances e.g Stefan Kiszko and Sally Clarke, dramatically shortening those lives.
By criminal appeals consultant, Campbell Malone