Justice urges appeal reforms

CAMPAIGNING group Justice is demanding radical reforms to the workings of the criminal Court of Appeal.

Changes to the leave stage, the role of the single judge and clarification of the grounds of appeal are among many proposals outlined in its report, 'Remedying miscarriages of Justice'.

Justice also sets out its blueprint for the new miscarriage of justice body, the Criminal Cases Review Authority (CCRA).

Home Secretary Michael Howard recently restated his commitment to the CCRA, but there is still no time-scale for setting up the new body.

Madeleine Colvin, Justice's legal officer, says the Government's proposals fail to ensure the CCRA's independence.

On the key issue of funding, Justice asked consultants Coopers & Lybrand to estimate the minimum resources needed, she says. It estimated an annual running cost of u3.5 million.

On reforms of the Court of Appeal, Justice accuses solicitors and barristers of often being unaware that the time-loss rule, where defendants face longer sentences if their appeals fail, is rarely applied. Justice calls for it to be abolished because it encourages lawyers to advise wrongly against appeals.

Justice also recommends that lawyers' mistakes should constitute a valid ground of appeal when they can be shown to affect the safety of a conviction.

Experienced criminal solicitors are exposed in the report as not knowing the Court of Appeal is able and willing to give legal aid to solicitors to attend clients in prison and allow them to prepare cases, even if counsel has advised against appeal.

At the leave stage, Justice wants legal aid available for a “second opinion” where grounds for appeal are based on defence lawyers' errors.

“By the nature of such allegations, appellants are unlikely to have the support of trial counsel in appealing and will then be forced to draft their own grounds of appeal, which are unlikely to pass the leave stage,” the report says.