Miscarriages of justice
where the trial took place before 1986 (before the implementation of PACE)
Longest-running Miscarriage of Justice ended on 16 January 2002.
had his conviction for the murder of Wendy Sewell quashed 28 years after
In 1989 the
were acquitted of an IRA pub bombing in Guildford that killed 5 and
In 1991, the
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
were acquitted of operating a bomb factory, positive forensic tests
subsequently proved to be not positive. They were in custody from 1976 -
In 1992, Judith
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
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 2007 Ronald
Castree was convicted of Lesley's murder and received a 30-year sentence.
In 1997, “The
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
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
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".
In 1998, Mahmood
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.
where the trial took place after 1986 (after the implementation of PACE)
In 1991, the
suspects Winston Silcott, Mark Braithwaite, and Egin Raghip were cleared
of the killing of PC Keith Blakelock.
In 1993, Michelle
and Lisa Taylor
were found not guilty of the murder of Allison Shaughnessy. Michelle
had affair with victim’s husband and the case had received sensational
newspaper reporting, which the Court of Appeal thought would have
influenced the jury.
In 1995, Ryan
acquitted of killing his wife with a horse anaesthetic only after his
conviction was a suicide note found in vet journal.
Williams-Rigby and Michael Lawson
were acquitted of child abuse when they were care home workers. It
was found that they had been convicted on the unreliable evidence of
‘victims’ looking to receive compensation. Both men are former colleagues
of David Jones, now the Wolverhampton Wanderers manager, whose trial on
similar charges collapsed after evidence that complainants had fabricated
the allegations to secure compensation.
miscarriages of justice occur?
fabrication of evidence
mistake, both police and lay witnesses may prove to be unreliable when
attempting to identify an offender.
evidence unreliable. This can occur because of incompetent
scientists or genuine error. Expert evidence may not have been properly
researched or there may have been a deliberate attempt to undermine the
system by giving false evidence. In R v Dallager
(2002), ear print identification was wrong.
The evidential value of expert testimony can be overestimated. If
there is a conflict of evidence, there is no way of ensuring the jury
will always get it right. No human system can expect to be
confessions, as a result of police pressure or mental instability
relevant evidence to the defence
The conduct of the
trial, particularly the judges summing up, this was dramatically
demonstrated in R v
magistrates can be prejudice. The accused may be viewed in a
prejudicial manner because be is of a different race, or other reasons,
There are problems
with the appeal process; there are limited grounds for appeal
inadequate. State agencies fail to protect or vindicate rights, or laws,
which are inherently contradictory to the concept of individual rights
What can be done about miscarriages of
It is generally
accepted that the price of a fair criminal justice system will be the
acquittal on a technicality of those who have committed criminal offences
or because of a failure of evidence, whereas conviction of the innocent is
never acceptable and, should it arise, speedy measures should be taken to
rectify the injustice.
In Jan 2003,
solicitor 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'.
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.
In a leading
case R v Cannings  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.
and Criminal Evidence Act 1984
Many of the reasons
for the miscarriages of justice pre-date the Police and Criminal
Evidence Act (PACE) (which came into effect in 1986). It is
widely recognised that PACE provides safeguards during police
questioning, supported by strict Codes of Practice, made under sec
60 and sec 66. The Notice of Rights & Entitlements under the Codes of
Practice is published in 38 languages.
comprise some of the most high profile cases, but the Acts of Parliament
aimed at preventing terrorism exclude many of the safeguards for the
suspect provided by the PACE. The Guildford Four trial was conducted
scrupulously fairly and no amount of legislation could prevent fabricated
evidence affecting the trial.
Criminal Cases Review Commission
In "The Conscience
of the Jury" (1991), Lord Devlin wrote that together the miscarriages in
the cases of the Guildford Four, the Maguire Seven and the Birmingham Six
were "the greatest disasters that have shaken British justice in my time".
In 1993 the Royal
Commission on Criminal Justice (The Runciman Commission) reported, and
recommended that the Court of Appeal must be more ready to examine
possible miscarriages of justice. It also recommended the
establishment of an independent body, to review and investigate suspected
miscarriages of justice, and to refer any cases where there is a real
possibility that the conviction, finding, verdict or sentence will not be
upheld to an appropriate appeal court. The Criminal Cases Review
Commission was established under the Criminal Appeal Act 1995, and
took over responsibility for reviewing applications in 1997. It is
an independent body with extensive powers to investigate complaints of
miscarriages of justice.
responsibility for considering miscarriages of justice lay with the Home
Secretary. It became widely perceived that, to carry public
confidence, this function should be performed by a fully independent body,
rather than by the Government.
in legal culture
There was also a
more general change in legal culture. A good illustration of that is the
decision in R v Secretary of State for the Home Department, ex p
where, in the face of some 60 miscarriages of justice in the 1990s, the
House of Lords set aside Home Office instructions denying prisoners’
access to journalists in their efforts to get their convictions
overturned. The philosophy became firmly established that there is a
positive duty on judges, when things have gone seriously wrong in the
criminal justice system, to do everything possible to put it right,
R v Connor and Mirza (Conjoined Appeals)  HL
Rachel Nickell was brutally killed on
Wimbledon Common in 1992. Colin Stagg, who was falsely accused and
convicted of her murder. Robert Napper, currently in Broadmoor, has now
been charged with the killing and is awaiting trial. (December 2007)