Meeting with the Chairman of the Criminal Cases Review Commission: 21 March
The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) is the independent organisation set up to investigate suspected miscarriages of justice from magistrates courts, the Crown Court in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the Court Martial and Service Civilian Court. CCRC investigates cases where people believe they have been wrongly convicted of a criminal offence or wrongly sentenced.
Meeting Date: 21 March 2017
The Victims’ Commissioner (VC) and the Chairman of the Criminal Cases Review Commission met on 21 March to discuss how the CCRC undertakes its obligations as set out in the Victim’s Code of Practice.
The Chairman explained that the CCRC receives around 1,400 applications a year. The CCRC can only usually review matters where the applicant has exhausted the normal appeals process. The CCRC is an investigative body with significant investigative powers. It has statutory powers to obtain virtually any material it thinks might be relevant to a case including material that was not used during the original trial.
Overwhelmingly, the cases the CCRC deals with relate to the most serious types of crime.
Investigations take, on average, 9-12 months, but some complex cases can take between 2 and 3 years.
The CCRC has the power to refer a case back to the relevant appeal court so that a fresh appeal must be heard. It is the only body with such a power. It refers on average 33 cases a year for appeal. Around two thirds of CCRC referrals have succeeded on appeal.
The CCRC is independent of both the government and the courts.
The CCRC is mindful of the distress that could be caused by being informed that the case in which you were a victim is being reviewed. Given that a high proportion of applications to the CCRC do not result in a case being referred back to the courts, the CCRC will consider very carefully whether it should make the victim of a crime aware of its investigations.
Whenever a conviction is due to be referred for appeal the CCRC will try to contact the identifiable victims of the crime to which the case relates. However, unless the case is being referred, or unless there are strong reasons such as earlier publicity, or some other circumstances of the case, which mean that a victim is likely to find out about the CCRC’s involvement from another source, victims are not routinely informed.
CCRC applicants receive written reasons for the CCRC’s decision whether or not to refer their cases to the appeal courts. The CCRC is not usually allowed to disclose these documents to the victim.
The VC and the Chairman had a discussion about how victims might be supported through the investigation process in those cases where the application is disclosed. Knowledge of the application and the prospect of an appeal and even, as happens very rarely, a re-trial, can be harrowing and needs to be handled with great sensitivity.
It was recognised that for many victims the conduit of such information was the Victim Liaison Officers (VLO) where the victim was a member of the Victim Contact Scheme (VCS). The VCS was the responsibility of the National Probation Service (NPS). The VC was asked what information the CCRC had given to the VCS so that VLOs were able to assist victims in understanding the process and timescale and notification procedures. The Chairman was not aware that the CCRC had been asked for information but, in principle, they would be happy to assist.
The VC undertook to write to the Director of the NPS to suggest that the two organisations liaised and shared information. If victims were better informed of the process and the likelihood of a re-trial it might offer greater re-assurance.