Criminal Cases Review Commission

Guardian Unlimited
30 March 1999
Leader article

Hanratty revisited

Reviews must be speeded up

The case of James Hanratty, hanged 37 years ago for a notorious murder on the A6, was referred back to the Court of Appeal yesterday after an investigation by the Criminal Cases Review Commission. Paradoxically, it coincided with a report from the all-party Select Committee on Home Affairs on the first two years of the Commission, which showed the backlog of miscarriage of justice claims was continuing to climb. Existing delays are already causing reviews to take over two years. Should the Commission be worrying about people, who have already been dead for 37 years, when people still serving prison sentences are having to wait two years for a decision?

That is too simplistic an approach and ignores the mental and emotional prisons into which the relatives of wrongly executed people can be shut. Like last year's referral of Derek Bentley's case, which led to the quashing of the conviction 45 years after he was hanged for the murder of a policeman, the Hanratty case will receive a large amount of media attention. But although they generate a large amount of media attention, notorious cases from an earlier generation play only a small part in the Commission's workload. Something must be done, but relatives of wrongly executed suspects have a right to have such cases reviewed.

It is not all bad news from the select committee. The MPs note the positive response from several leading civil rights lawyers to the new commission. It is easy to forget the faults of the old system when the C3 division of the Home Office was responsible for handling miscarriage claims: the lack of independence within an executive branch of government that was understandably cautious of over-ruling judicial decisions; the secrecy under which it operated and its refusal to give reasons when rejecting a claim; and its readiness to act as a court, rather than a reviewing body to see if there was new evidence to refer a case back to the Appeal Court. This last fault is clearly infectious because the MPs complain that the Commission is being too 'meticulous', getting bogged down in irrelevant detail and side-tracked into less important issues. Some pruning could clearly help here. Other efficiency savings proposed include better performance targets. But the crux of the problem is lack of resources. The Commission has only 29 case review managers. More are promised, but even more will be needed in a system receiving four miscarriage claims a day and resolving only two.

Guardian Unlimited
5 April 1999

Murderers, or wrongly convicted?

Duncan Campbell reports on a deluge of new cases of alleged miscarriages of justices despite claims such mistakes are a thing of the past

Few murder cases in recent years have provoked as much attention and outrage as those which led to the convictions of Michael Stone for killing Lin Russell and her daughter Megan and of Sion Jenkins for the murder of his foster daughter, Billie-Jo. Both convictions have come under scrutiny and each case looks likely to be raised as a potential miscarriage of justice.

The call for reopening the cases comes as the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) completes its first two years, the home affairs select committee reports that the commission has insufficient resources to deal with an enormous backlog of cases and as a guide for victims of miscarriage of justice is published. Just as it was being argued that cases like the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, the Bridgewater Four and Judith Ward could never happen again, a deluge of alleged miscarriage of justice cases are emerging.

A campaign, Justice for Sion Jenkins, the deputy headmaster convicted in July last year of murdering his 13-year-old foster daughter Billie-Jo Jenkins in Hastings in February 1997 has been launched from Lewes in Sussex. The Channel 4 television programme, Trial and Error, which has investigated six miscarriage of justice cases referred back to the Court of Appeal, is also looking at the case and Bob Woffinden, author of the latest book about James Hanratty, whose case was referred back to the Court of Appeal by the CCRC last week, has already gone into print saying Jenkins should never have been convicted.

The emergence of the campaign has provoked strong reactions in Hastings where it has been attacked in the local press. But Jenkins is encouraged by the developments. In a letter from Wakefield prison that accompanies the campaign material, he wrote: 'How strongly my mood today contrasts with the feelings of impotence and despair I endured during that first night in Lewes prison after my conviction - my very own long dark night of the soul.' His campaign supporters claim that there was 'no motive, no opportunity, no valid evidence'. They say that following his conviction, Jenkins was subjected to a 'torrent of black propaganda' much of it connected to the fact that he had falsified his qualifications when seeking work as a teacher.

When Michael Stone was convicted at Maidstone crown court in October last year of the murder of Lin Russell and her daughter Megan, he proclaimed his innocence from the dock. Since then some witnesses and relatives of witnesses have cast doubt on the evidence. Hampshire police have been called in to investigate the new allegations.

A guide for those campaigning in miscarriage of justice cases, No Smoke Without Fire by Jill Morrell, who learned her campaigning skills keeping the case of the Lebanon hostage John McCarthy in the public eye, gives advice on how to keep miscarriage of justice cases alive and how to explore avenues that might prove innocence. In the foreword, Ann Whelan, the mother of one of the Bridgewater Four, wrote: 'Once a conviction has been made, it is very difficult to reverse - the law does not like to be proved wrong.' [Full foreword here]

The possibility that two of the most horrific murder cases of recent times could be referred back to the Court of Appeal is a vista that the prosecuting authorities would be unhappy to contemplate. But what has emerged since the CCRC's existence is that there are a far greater number of potential miscarriage of justice cases than had been contemplated.

There have been 2,325 cases received in the first two years of the CCRC's operation. Of these, 727 have now been examined, 43 have been referred to the Court of Appeal and 99 refused. Of the 43 referrals, 13 have been heard by the Court of Appeal and eight convictions have been quashed. Five of the referrals have been for appeals against sentence only.

Last week, the home affairs committee expressed serious concern over the 'unacceptable delays' in dealing with cases. The committee suggested that 'far from the situation being in hand or improving, it is deteriorating.'

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