HC Deb 28 May 2004 vol 422 cc194-5W
Mr. McNamara

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what estimate he has made of the(a)number and (b)percentage of miscarriages of justice at each level of the criminal justice system in each of the last 10 years. [173108]

Paul Goggins

The Home Secretary's powers to consider alleged miscarriages of justice came to an end on 31 March 1997, and were replaced by new powers vested in an independent body called the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

In its first seven years, the Commission received 6,647 applications for case review and referred 226 of these to the relevant court of appeal. Of the appeals resulting from these referrals that the courts have determined, some two-thirds have resulted in the conviction being quashed.

Figures available from the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) show that 290 convictions were overturned in 1998, 171 in 1999, 150 in 2000, 136 in 2001 and 166 in 2002. These would have included cases referred by the Commission, in addition to normal in-time appeals and those where the court granted leave for an out-of-time appeal.

Mr. McNamara

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what procedures are in place to review case files following a referral to the courts by the Criminal Case Review Commission; and what mechanisms are in place(a)to address case-particular errors and (b)to identify general improvements that may reduce the risk of further miscarriages of justice. [173109]

Paul Goggins

Once closed by the Commission, the files for both referral and non-referral cases are retained for five years at which point the Commission reviews the files for record keeping purposes. It is possible for an applicant whose referral is unsuccessful or whose case is not referred by the Commission to reapply at any time.

It is an objective of the Commission to analyse the causes of miscarriages of justice and to suggest ways in which the criminal justice system might be improved to reduce their incidence. It is still too early for the Commission to do so authoritatively. The Commission has only referred 226 cases (as at March 2004) and about a fifth of these have yet to been determined. The difficulty in drawing sound conclusions relevant to today's criminal justice system is that these cases concern a wide spectrum of offences and convictions spread over half a century.

However when the Commission's database contains a greater number of recent cases, it should be possible to analyse comprehensively the legal and investigative issues that still commonly arise in miscarriages of justice. The Commission should then be able to formulate sound advice to other stakeholders and agencies within the criminal justice system on actions and legislation that could help to minimise their incidence.

While section 23 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 precludes the Commission from disclosing any case information obtained in the exercise of its functions the Commission does liaise with other agencies and individuals in the criminal justice system. This includes discussion of issues raised in cases reviewed by the Commission.