Case review body hits out at committee criticism

The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) has hit back at a Home Affairs committee's accusation that its too-thorough approach to investigating cases is helping cause “unacceptable delays” in the system.

As predicted by The Lawyer (8 February), the committee's report demands a shake up of the CCRC's methods, claiming the CCRC – which looks into potential miscarriages of justice – is investigating cases in more depth than is necessary.

A CCRC spokeswoman admits the delays – which can involve people sitting in jail for two years before their cases are dealt with – are a problem, but defends the body's thorough methods.

She says: “We have been accused of being too thorough, but our approach is something we stand by. We are conscious that we are the body of last resort and it is because cases have been looked at superficially in the past that miscarriages of justice have been perpetrated.”

The CCRC, she says, faces a backlog from its launch day two years ago, with nearly 300 unresolved cases referred from the Home Office and the Northern Ireland office.

She concedes the CCRC can do things to speed up the process and the extra £1.3m Home Office funding it has won – which will pay for 12 new case managers and four new administration staff – will help.

“The delays are something we have been concerned about from day one, but we are already taking steps to remedy that. As a new body we are evolving and speeding up every day,” she says.

She also defends the decision to investigate the cases of eight deceased persons before those of people in custody, which has been dubbed “questionable” by Justice's criminal justice director, Kate Akester.

The spokeswoman says: “These cases were among those referred by the Home Office, some of which had been with the Home Office for decades, and we took the decision to allocate them very quickly.

“You have to get this into proportion. We have completed 727 cases and of those, only five are dead people.”

The most recent of these was the CCRC's decision to refer the James Hanratty murder case back to the Court of Appeal nearly 37 years after he was hanged.

The spokeswoman says that the CCRC now has a system of priority: “We now look at applications in date order of receipt and at those in custody first.”