Time for change: Four urgent reforms for the new Labour government

As Keir Starmer enters number 10, we call on his government to take action on four major flaws in our criminal justice system. These straightforward reforms would make for a much fairer criminal appeals system and ensure that mistakes are more likely to be identified and rectified.

They are not just necessary but urgent. Each day without reform is another day where injustice looms over innocent individuals.

APPEAL calls on Shabana Mahmood, the Justice Secretary to:

1 Create new leadership at the CCRC

The body that is supposed to act as a safety net for wrongly convicted people – the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) – is failing in its vital duties and the problems start at the top.

These failures led to Andy Malkinson, who was wrongfully imprisoned, spending a decade longer behind bars than necessary (see more here). Victor Nealon suffered a similar fate ten years earlier. The CCRC only grants new appeals in 2% of the cases it considers. This cannot go on.

It is clear that the organisation lacks rigour, impartiality and a genuine commitment to overturning miscarriages of justice.

The new government should revitalise the organisation by bringing in a new and suitably qualified leadership team that can put the CCRC back on track and deliver on the mandate it was given by Parliament.

2 Scrap the test for compensation

Imagine spending years in prison for a crime you didn’t commit, only to be told you need to prove your innocence beyond doubt to get compensation. That’s exactly what happened to Sam Hallam, who is supported by APPEAL. Despite his conviction being overturned on strong evidence in 2012, Sam has not received any form of compensation due to the stringent and inhumane test set out in section 133 Criminal Justice Act 1998.

The government needs to scrap the brutal test altogether so that compensation is granted based on the wrongful conviction being quashed. Victims of miscarriages of justice deserve better.

3 Allow access to the evidence

We need to reform the evidence rules to ensure that the defence has a right of access to all non-sensitive material from police investigations.

Currently, the police and prosecution are the gatekeepers to the evidence in a criminal trial and at the appeal stage. Only they have the power to decide what the defence gets to see, and what remains hidden.

All too often the material they choose to hide is crucial for the defence case. Currently, lawyers working on wrongful conviction cases are routinely denied access to evidence by police forces and prosecutors (see more here).

In Andy Malkinson’s case, crucial evidence that could have exonerated him was not disclosed to the defence – either at the time of the trial or after his appeal was lodged. Only after APPEAL took the Greater Manchester Police to court (twice!) and won did we discover that they had been withholding evidence that significantly undermined the prosecution case.

4 Review the cases of corrupt police officers

We are calling for a change in the law to ensure that when a police officer is imprisoned, there is an automatic independent review of their files for wrongful convictions, imposed at sentence.

The cases of police officer Derek Ridgewell highlight the need for reform. He was a racist and corrupt police officer operating in the 1970s in London. He framed several young black men for crimes that he had in fact committed, for which they were then imprisoned. Eleven of these men have now had their names cleared. APPEAL represented the families of Saliah Mehmet and Basil Peterkin – whose convictions were posthumously quashed in 2024, after 46 years.

It should not have taken four decades. Ridgewell was imprisoned for seven years for a serious crime of dishonesty in the 1980s. His cases should have been looked at the moment he was sentenced to prison.

APPEAL will educate MPs on these injustices, advocate for reform and ensure they cannot be swept under the carpet.

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APPEAL is the working name of the Centre for Criminal Appeals, a Charitable Company Limited By Guarantee and a law practice authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Registered Charity Number: 1144162 | SRA Authorisation Number: 621184 | Company Number: 7556168

3 Comments

  1. Radine Torne on July 6, 2024 at 12:23 pm

    Radine Torne

  2. Nashiya Orvananos on July 8, 2024 at 3:19 am

    Nashiya Orvananos

  3. Tars Brudevoll on July 9, 2024 at 10:55 pm

    Tars Brudevoll

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