The Court of Appeal quashed the conviction of footballer Ched Evans this morning and ordered a retrial. In April 2012, a jury at Carnarvon Crown Court found the former Sheffield United striker guilty of rape and he was sentenced to five years. He was released on licence in October 2014 and remains on the sex offenders register.
Evans, who has always protested his innocence, was refused permission to appeal by a single judge in the Court of Appeal in August 2012 and again in November that year by the full court.
Evans took his case to the miscarriage of justice watchdog, the Criminal Cases Review Commission which has the power to refer cases to the appeal courts if ‘relevant and admissible evidence’ that was ‘not available at trial’ has come to light which may undermine the safety of the original conviction.
Days after Evans submitted his application in October 2014 to the CCRC, the watchdog announced – controversially, as the Justice Gap reported at the time – that it was fast-tracking the investigation into his case. Just over a year later, the Commission referred Ched Evans’ case to the Court of Appeal.
It currently takes the cash-strapped CCRC eight months just to look at a new case – 13 months if that applicant is out of prison.
Outside Court 6 of the Court of Appeal this morning, journalists and tourists, jockeyed for space with Evans himself, his fiancée Natasha Massey and over 20 other members of his family. The mood was tense, with nobody speaking apart from one elderly member of his entourage, who told a fellow relative: ‘It’s a long way to have come for only 10 minutes.’
Today’s judgment, welcomed by an ‘extremely grateful’ Ched Evans seems to vindicate a controversial decision by the Commission to fast-track the case. Kim Evans, writing for the Justice Gap back in October 2014 when the CCRC opened its investigation into the case, noted that there were then 838 cases under review, with 709 waiting – ‘an overwhelming case load, particularly bearing in mind that many of those awaiting a review of their case will still be in prison, and a proportion will be innocent. This makes the CCRC’s decision in the case of Evans difficult to understand.’
The CCRC denies that Evans was given any special treatment because of his celebrity status or wealth. In an interview with the Justice Gap’s editor Jon Robins last month, the CCRC’s Chair Richard Foster insisted: ‘We don’t approach things in that way.’ He wouldn’t be drawn on the reasons for expediting the case. Foster would only say that the CCRC has a policy on the ‘prioritisation of cases’. ‘If someone is very ill and they might die; if there is evidence that might be unattainable if we wait too long; if there is a risk because of the high interest in the case that evidence might become contaminated,’ he said. It is unclear into which of those categories – if any – the Ched Evans case fell.
The Court of Appeal has ordered that Evans is rearraigned for a retrial within the next two months and strict reporting restrictions remain in place. It remains to be seen, however, whether social media users, in particular, will adhere to Lady Justice Hallett’s stark warnings on contempt of court this morning, given the legal confusion that currently exists about commenting online on high-profile and controversial cases.
The ruling – in full
On 20 April 2012, a jury at the Carnarvon Crown Court convicted the appellant of an offence of rape. He was sentenced to five years imprisonment and he has since been released on licence.
He appealed to this court against conviction on a reference by the Criminal Cases Review Commission under s.9 Criminal Appeal Act 1995 on the basis that relevant and admissible evidence has come to light, that was not available at trial, and that undermines the safety of his conviction.
On 22nd and 23rd March 2016 we heard argument and we heard the fresh evidence. In our judgment handed down this morning, we provide a detailed consideration of the issues raised on the appeal and the reasons for our decision.
In summary, we have concluded that we must allow the appeal and that it is in the interests of justice to order a re-trial. Nothing can be reported that might prejudice the fairness of that re-trial.
That means the contents of this statement may be reported and broadcast, in full, but nothing more about the appeal proceedings may be reported until the re-trial is concluded. The identity of the complainant in this case must not be reported.
Accordingly we order:
- The appeal is allowed.
- We quash the conviction.
- The appellant will be retried on the allegation of rape
- A fresh indictment must be served.
- The appellant must be re-arraigned on that fresh indictment within 2 months of today.
- The appellant will be on unconditional bail as far as this court is concerned.
The venue of the re-trial, the trial judge and the date of the re-trial will be determined by the Senior Presiding Judge for the Wales Circuit, Nicola Davies J. Any applications for further directions should be made to her.
Reporting restrictions under section 4 (2) of the Contempt of Court Act apply to the appeal proceedings and will continue until the conclusion of the re-trial, to avoid any prejudice to the re-trial. Any application to lift those restrictions to be made to Nicola Davies J or the trial judge.
The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 also applies so that the complainant is entitled to life-long anonymity.
Miranda is a commissioning editor on www.thejusticegap.com. She tweets at @MirandaGrell