This successful appeal by expert appeal barrister Philip Rule rounds off a successful year commenced with his success in quashing two life sentences in the very first Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) judgment of the year (R v Y [2017] 1 Cr. App. R. (S.) 44). In each case Philip was instructed only for the appeal.

Philip says: “This is an important victory for justice and shows that the Court of Appeal may be properly relied upon to quash unsafe convictions where a jury has been denied a true picture of the contact between a complainant and the accused person. That is the proper safeguard of liberty and justice that is the function and role of the appeal court in this country. Unfortunately we know that too often mistakes and inadequacies to the criminal justice system at a trial can result in wrongful convictions.

The press has linked this case to others where recently juries have acquitted or where disclosure inadequacies of communication records have resulted in appeals being allowed, particularly in sexual offence cases. It is important to understand however that rape cases are generally treated with greater care than the average case, so this is more the tip of an iceberg of failings brought about by chronic and long-term under-resourcing of the criminal justice system. That is not limited to the police. Until and unless a reasonable remuneration is returned to legally-aided criminal defence the pressures on lawyers at these trials and restrictions on preparatory attention sometimes created will continue to lead to these kinds of failings.

We are as a nation failing to recruit and retain the best lawyers in criminal defence. It is time for our civilised society to re-energise the commitment to legal aid and criminal defence as a bulwark of our civilisation, and the protection we all believe every person ought to be able to expect from a state-prosecution system. Liberty has to be defended properly, not on the cheap with the price paid by innocent persons deemed an acceptable feature of cutting corners and expense.

Too often in criminal practice, as recent well-publicised cases have shown, there is a heavy price borne by individuals whose reliance on the system to reveal information going to the truth of events is badly let down. It is important this light is being shone upon the problem. Action is needed before it becomes so endemic and pervasive that our trust as a community in the criminal justice system to preserve our liberties is reduced to a level seen in some other countries. Lack of faith in the legal system can lead to division and civil unrest, but even more immediately will lead to grave injustice to individuals”