Hundreds of convicted criminals - including those found guilty of murder and rape - could have their convictions quashed after senior police chief admitted thousands of forensic tests may have been tampered with.
Two workers at a private forensics laboratory - Randox, in Manchester - are under investigation following suggestions that they were involved in the manipulation of evidence for several years.
More than 6,000 forensic samples are thought to have been compromised, with the majority relating to drug driving offences. However, Deputy Chief Constable, James Vaughan of the National Police Chief's Council said it was 'likely' that more serious cases - including murder and rape - would be affected.
"It is deeply worrying", he said, "because the integrity of forensic testing is sacrosanct in the criminal justice system. It is likely that we will see some cases where the Court of Appeal will be unhappy that a conviction is safe."
Much of Randox's work - as one of six companies licenced to carry out toxicology tests in the UK - concerns tests to see if people suspected of offences had drugs in their system at the time. However, the company also carries other tests on victims and the deceased which could be used as evidence in a criminal case.
Correna Platt, a specialist crime solicitor at the national law firm, Stephensons, said: “With an investigation ongoing, the extent to which results have been misrepresented – and the number of cases affected - is still unclear.
“However, if these reports are to believed, this would present a considerable miscarriage of justice.
“If someone has reason to believe that their conviction was based upon flawed or fabricated evidence the first thing they should do is seek professional legal advice. From there, a solicitor will be able to advise the appellant of their options and prospects for success.
'Onus on the appellant'
Ms Platt continued, “For the most part, the legal system is well equipped to identify and remedy any miscarriages of justice, though what form this will take depends on the time between the initial conviction and the time when new evidence – or doubts about existing evidence – comes to light.
“The window for appeal is 21 days in cases handled by the magistrate’s court and 28 days for cases handled by the Crown Court. The magistrate’s court can also be asked to ‘set aside’ the conviction and reopen the case within 28 days, or later, in exceptional circumstances. However this can only be achieved if the court believes it is in the ’interest of justice to do so’, and the onus is on the appellant to convey the significance of any new evidence. Anecdotal evidence or hearsay would not be sufficient and securing new information can be a costly and time consuming process. In some cases the Criminal Cases Review Commission may need to become involved.
“If a conviction is successfully overturned, then an application can be made for compensation, though this is not an automatic right.”