Written 8th July 2013 by Olliers Solicitors

The organisation responsible for investigating miscarriages of justice is set to receive a 10% increase in funding after a recent surge in applications from prisoners claiming they have been wrongfully convicted.

This is of huge concern in light of the recent competitive tendering proposal which is sure to reduce the quality of legal representation and increase the number of miscarriages of justice.

Criminal Cases Review Commission

Last year the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) received 1,625 applications from convicts asking to investigate their case. This was a huge increase of 64% compared to previous years. The CCRC believes the dramatic rise in applications is the result of a change in the way that prisoners can apply to the commission as a new application form has been introduced.

The chairman of the commission said:

“This is not about some sudden upsurge in miscarriages of justice. It is about the commission making itself much more accessible to those who may most need its help and allowing people to make applications in ways which best suit them personally.”

The new application form – which has been advertised in all prisons — includes pictures and simpler language so that prisoners with even the most basic reading and writing skills can complete it as studies have found that more than 50% of prisoners have literacy levels below that expected of 11 year olds.

Ministry of Justice

The Ministry of Justice’s (MoJ) promise to give the CCRC nearly half a million pounds extra in funding is particularly noteworthy given the background of swingeing cuts to criminal legal aid.

A MoJ spokeswoman said:

“The Criminal Cases Review Commission is an integral part of our justice system.”
“Over the past year they received a 64% increase in applications so we have granted them a small increase in their budget to deal with the workload and they have allocated more resources to processing applications to reduce delays.”

The idea of the CCRC was established by the Runciman Commission which was set up following numerous high profile miscarriages of justice such as the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six. Garry Runciman, chair of the Royal commission, admitted that it was the funding of the CCRC, rather than its structure that had concerned him.

However, a better funded CCRC does not really address the real problem facing the wrongly convicted – namely a lack of legal representation. A shortage of solicitors to take on these difficult and complex cases has turned into a crisis, with most applicants to the CCRC now having no legal representation.

With the MoJ aiming to cut £220m out of criminal legal aid, the situation is unlikely to get any better and it enforces the argument that the new competitive system would be a huge mistake.

Neil Sargeant

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