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Appeals - criminal - Criminal Cases Review Commission
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The Royal Commission on Criminal Justice (Runciman 1991 - 1993)

The Runciman Committee was formed after several high profile miscarriages of justice and it reported in July 1993. One of the key messages of that Report was that the Court of Appeal must be more ready to examine possible miscarriages of justice.  The report led to the Criminal Appeals Act 1995 and the establishment of the permanent Criminal Cases Review Commission,

the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, which implemented many of its recommendations. But, not on the ‘right to silence’ the government ignored the advice of the Commission.

Creation of the Criminal Cases Review Commission

The recommendation to create new and independent arrangements for identifying miscarriages of justice was implemented by the setting up of the Commission by section 8 of Criminal Appeal Act 1995.


The Commission is an independent body with extensive powers to investigate complaints of miscarriages of justice.


Website here.


Report to Parliament here.


R v Ellis (Ruth) (Deceased) (2003) CA


Appeal case, here


Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain, had her murder conviction upheld by the Court of Appeal; Lord Justice Kay, Mr Justice Silber and Mr Justice Leveson.

The case was referred to the court by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

The Old Bailey judge Sir Cecil Havers barred the jury from considering whether Ellis had acted under provocation.

Two years after Ellis’s execution - and largely prompted by her case - Parliament changed the law so as to allow a defence of diminished responsibility.

Lord Justice Kay: “We have to question whether this exercise of considering an appeal so long after the event, when Mrs Ellis herself had consciously and deliberately chosen not to appeal at the time, is a sensible use of the limited resources of the Court of Appeal.”

News report, here


R v Gore [2008] CA


Full case here

[Criminal Cases Review Commission - referring inappropriate cases]

D, aged 25, gave birth to a live baby boy whom she allowed to die before dumping him on sand dunes.  Her pregnancy had been undetected by others and she gave birth unaided. The CCRC referred her case as an appeal against her conviction for infanticide.  The baby had certainly lived for at least a few minutes.  At the trial she pleaded guilty. She was sentenced to a probation order and she died in 2003, of cancer.


The case was reviewed following the enquiries prompted by the Angela Cannings case.


Held: The court made some general observations in relation to the role of the Criminal Cases Review Commission in respect to historical cases and stated:

"We are surprised that the Commission should have seen fit to refer this case to us. This was not a case where the system failed a distressed defendant. On the contrary, it was a case where a young woman was treated with considerable compassion and sensitivity. She never wanted to resurrect this matter and it is unfortunate that, given there can be no benefit whatsoever to her, her parents' expectations have been raised only to be dashed. They should have been left to grieve for their daughter, not forced to relive the tragic circumstances of the death of their grandchild. The Commission might have been well advised to heed the wise words of Kay LJ when he said in the appeal of Ruth Ellis [2003] EWCA Crim 3556:

"We have to question whether this exercise of considering an appeal so long after the event when Mrs Ellis herself had consciously and deliberately chosen not to appeal at the time is a sensible use of the limited resources of the Court of Appeal. On any view, Mrs Ellis had committed a serious criminal offence. This case is, therefore, quite different from a case like Hanratty [2002] 2 Cr. App. R. 30 where the issue was whether a wholly innocent person had been convicted of murder. A wrong on that scale, if it had occurred, might even today be a matter for general public concern, but in this case there was no question that Mrs Ellis was other than the killer and the only issue was the precise crime of which she was guilty. If we had not been obliged to consider her case we would perhaps in the time available have dealt with 8 to 12 other cases, the majority of which would have involved people who were said to be wrongly in custody. The Court of Appeal's workload is an ever-increasing one and recent legislation will add substantially to that load. Parliament may wish to consider whether going back many years into history to re-examine a case of this kind is a use that ought to be made of the limited resources that are available. The exercise of the CCRC's discretion in deciding whether to refer cases is one that is a frequent source of challenge by way of Judicial Review and it may be that an express power to consider factors of this kind would enable the CCRC to take into account more readily the public interest in making its decision."

"Finally, we wonder whether anybody has explained properly to Mr and Mrs Gore that, had we accepted the interpretation of the law put forward on Miss Gore's behalf, the result could have been disastrous for other distressed young women in the position of their daughter" 

Comment: (The court was probably referring to the possibility of a conviction for murder)


In 1998, Mahmood Hussein Mattan

Mattan who had been executed for the murder of a pawnbroker in 1952 on unreliable evidence, was acquitted. This was one of the first cases referred to the Court of Appeal by Criminal Cases Review Commission.


In Jan 2003, solicitor Sally Clark

Sally Clark whose two babies died was finally acquitted of their murder, medical evidence had not been disclosed and inappropriate conclusions had been drawn on the statistical probability of death being an accident, this is known as the  'Prosecutor's Fallacy'


The release of Trupti Patel followed; she was a pharmacist who was cleared of the three murders of her sons Amar and Jamie, and daughter Mia between 1997 and 2001 - none of them survived beyond three months.


Sally Clark died in March 2007 she died from alcohol poisoning after having failed to rebuild her life; she was not offered counselling following her release.


In a leading case R v Cannings [2003] CA

Angela Cannings had her conviction of the murder of two of her children, seven-week-old Jason in 1991 and 18-week-old Matthew in 1999 overturned because it was unsafe.  


Ms Cannings, 40, a former shop assistant, has lost three children through Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), or cot death. SIDS was the cause of death after Ms Cannings' first child, Gemma, who died at the age of 13 weeks in 1989. 


Ms Cannings has one surviving daughter, who was born in 1996.  The Court of Appeal gave its reasons in the Cannings case they said that where expert evidence (that the death could only have been caused by the mother) was challenged the burden of proof fell firmly on the crown to prove that the mother had killed the child and not for the mother to disprove it. 


This prompted the Attorney General to consult with the Criminal Cases Review Commission to investigate 258 other cases.


Most convictions are upheld on appeal, but do not have the same impact when reported in the media.  There are, of course, exceptions, for example

In R v Hanratty (deceased) [2002]

The Court of Appeal held the conviction of Hanratty, the A6 murderer to be safe, after 40 years; conclusive DNA evidence was used that was not available at his trial.

In R v Ellis (Ruth) (Deceased) (2003) CA

Ruth Ellis the last woman to be hanged in Britain, had her murder conviction upheld by the Court of Appeal, the Criminal Cases Review Commission referred the case to the court.


During her trial, the judge, Sir Cecil Havers, barred the jury from considering whether Ellis had acted under provocation.  Lord Justice Kay said, “We have to question whether this exercise of considering an appeal so long after the event, when Mrs Ellis herself had consciously and deliberately chosen not to appeal at the time, is a sensible use of the limited resources of the Court of Appeal.”


In R v Davis (2000) CA 

The Court of Appeal made it clear that acquittal was only on a technicality and that there was no doubt the defendants had committed the acts of murder and robbery.


There were serious material irregularities in the trial by the police failure to disclose information about an informant and a juror's visit to the murder scene, which had been adjudged by the ECHR as breaching Art.6 (1) of the European Convention on Human Rights 1950, rendered the convictions unsafe.


Miscarriages of justice  

(1) Miscarriages where the trial took place before 1986 (before the implementation of PACE)


Britain's Longest-running Miscarriage of Justice ended on 16 January 2002. Stephen Downing had his conviction for the murder of Wendy Sewell quashed 28 years after her death.


In 1989 the “Guildford 4”

The “Guildford 4” were acquitted of an IRA pub bombing in Guildford that killed 5 and injured 65.


In 1991, the “Birmingham 6”

The “Birmingham 6” were released after 16 years for a pub bombing in 1974, which killed 21 and injured 162.  The Court of Appeal said that no system is better than its human input. Like any other system of justice, the adversarial system may be abused.


In 1991, the “Maguire Seven”

The “Maguire Seven” were acquitted of operating a bomb factory, positive forensic tests subsequently proved to be not positive. They were in custody from 1976 - 1991.


In 1992, Judith Ward

Ward was acquitted of killing 9 soldiers, 1 soldier’s wife and 2 children in a coach bomb attack on the M62.  A coach transporting military personnel was blown up on the motorway. Ward spent 15 years of a 30 year sentence in prison.


In 1992, Steven Kiszko

Kiszko was cleared of rape and murder of 11yearold Lesley Molseed.  He spent 16 years in prison and died the year following his release. The police semen sample left at the scene of the crime could not have come from Kiszko, as he was impotent.


In 1997, “The Bridgewater 4”

Vincent Hickey, Michael Hickey (J), James Robinson and Patrick Malloy (died in custody in 1981) the three that were still alive were released after 18 years in jail.  Newspaper-boy Carl Bridgewater, aged 13 was shot dead as he stumbled across an apparent burglary.


In 1997, Patrick Nicholls

Nicholls was acquitted, it was discovered that the ‘victim’ Gladys Heath had died of a heart attack. At the time of his release Nicholls was the victim of the second longest miscarriage of justice, having been convicted in 1975.


In 1998, Derek Bentley

Bentley was given a posthumous pardon.  In 1952, Bentley aged 19 was under arrest when his younger accomplice, Chris Craig, shot and killed a police officer.  Police said Bentley had shouted: "Let him have it, Chris!" which they alleged meant open fire, rather than to hand over the weapon.  Bentley was hanged. Craig escaped the gallows because he was a minor.


The trial took place within 88 days from the shooting, it lasted two-and-a-half days, and the jury heard no evidence of Bentley having a mental age of 11. He had, the Court of Appeal said, been denied "the fair trial which is the birthright of every British citizen".



Victims of miscarriages of justice are entitled to some compensation in some circumstances.


In 2006 the Home Secretary removed his discretionary payments from the system and proposed primary legislation to cap the maximum payout.   The cap would be at £500,000


For 16 years in prison Paddy Hill was awarded about £900,000

News report here


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