Criminal case review body to face radical shake-up

The Home Office is threatening to instigate a shake-up in the commission that looks into suspected miscarriages of justice in a bid to clear the backlog of cases.

A Home Affairs Select Committee is due to report on the Criminal Cases Review Commission in the next few weeks.

Labour MP Paul Stinchcombe, who sits on the committee, says the commission needs to be streamlined to make it more efficient.

The warning comes as the Government announced plans to hand the commission an extra £1.28m to employ more caseworkers, following a U-turn by Home Secretary Jack Straw. The Home Office originally refused to grant the extra funding.

The backlog of more than 1,000 cases is growing at the rate of one a day. Cases have to wait two-and-a-half years before they are investigated. It means a person falsely convicted and sentenced to five years' imprisonment, is likely to have served their sentence by the time all appeal avenues have been exhausted and the commission has looked at the case.

Stinchcombe says: “Jack Straw rightly revisited the funding decision to give the commission more money for case managers. But the Government is saying we need yet more money otherwise we are not going to get rid of this backlog.

“But should we continue to invest ever increasing amounts of money into this organisation without demanding changes to the way it is evolving?

“There has to be a very hard look at the managerial structures, and where efficiencies of time and money can be found. One case manager told me she spent 25 per cent of her time doing clerical duties.”

Stinchcombe agrees that more money is needed, because when the commission was launched the previous Government underestimated the number of cases that would go before it.

But he says other areas need to be slimmed down. The computerised case management system, for example, is too elaborate and exhaustive, meaning time is wasted examining irrelevant documents.

A spokeswoman for the commission says: “The Home Office has given us money, but it is a year late. We put the bid in in January 1998 and it has only come now – and we can only begin spending it from April.”

She says the extra money will increase the number of caseworkers from 28 to 40.