The day job beckons, Michael Gove. Welcome back to the world of justice, although some may suggest that justice now has a different meaning for you. With time on your hands until your party elects a new leader, can I please urge you on behalf of innocent people in prison to execute another u-turn (and more productive than your ‘surprise’ decision to go for the top job)?
- This article is written by Prof Julie Price and Jon Robins
It may seem like years ago, but last year the Justice Select Committee recommended that the Law Commission should review the Court of Appeal’s grounds for allowing appeals against possible wrongful convictions (here). Witnesses – we’d say ‘experts but their views have been devalued in recent weeks – were concerned that the Court of Appeal was even less willing to get to grips with miscarriages than they were back in the dark days of the 1970s and 1980s of the Birmingham Six, Guildford Four etc.
Newly appointed Lord Chancellor, you apparently weighed up all the considerable evidence in which campaigners, appeal lawyers and academics aimed much of their ire at the Court of Appeal as opposed to the cash-strapped and rather beleaguered Criminal Cases Review Commission.
Even Michael Zander QC, emeritus professor at LSE (and no campaigner) said that our appeal Judges had failed to get to grips with miscarriage cases. ‘The Court of Appeal has always taken the view that they do not want to get involved with jury decisions. They simply wash their hands,’ the prof told MPs.
Anyway, we (those of us who work in this field, and who gave evidence to your MP colleagues) were shocked when you rejected the MPs’ key recommendation after having been reassured by a late submission by the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge.
You wrote: ‘We note the views expressed by… Lord Judge, and we do not believe that there is sufficient evidence that the Court of Appeal’s current approach has a deleterious effect on those who have suffered miscarriages of justice.’
Not of Chilcot dimensions, of course, but the Justice Committee must be asking itself why it bothered wading through 47 written statements, and quizzing 12 acknowledged experts, if you were going to disregard their work on an assurance of the former head of the very organisation that was being criticized.
Come on, Mr Gove, he would say that, wouldn’t he?
Lord Judge has a huge amount of experience when it comes to miscarriages, albeit largely on one side. He was prosecuting counsel on the Carl Bridgewater case in 1979 and appeared again for the Crown at the Birmingham Six’s second unsuccessful appeal in 1987̀ where he enthusiastically rejected any suggestion that the police were making it all up. ‘It would have been virtually impossible to find stronger evidence that pointed to guilt except perhaps a film of the actual planting of the bombs,’ he told the court.
To better understand how the Court of Appeal is unwilling to rectify its own mistakes, please take a look at the shocking case of Tony Stock, arguably one of the most blatant miscarriages of justice in modern times. His case was to go the Court of Appeal four times, as well as the European Court of Human Rights. Stock always claimed his innocence and, from the start, many believed that he was an innocent victim of police corruption (notably Tom Sargant of JUSTICE who championed his cause as early as 1971). In 1979 it appeared that a terrible miscarriage of justice had been revealed when a member of a gang of armed robbers admitted to the robbery. It would take 17 years for the case to come before the Court of Appeal, headed by Lord Judge, and rejected. In 2004, the CCRC sent the case back to the Court of Appeal for a whole list of reasons – by this time, there was nothing left of the prosecution case – including that Lord Judge was completely wrong about the robbery exit route. In the face of incontrovertible evidence (i.e., a copy of a Leeds A to Z), the court accepted Judge got it wrong.
But there were no apologies, and the conviction was again upheld.
Fast forward to 2008, and the Stock case was sent again by the CCRC to the CA, to be rejected again. Evidence to the JSC last year urged the MPs to familiarise themselves with the Stock case which ‘symbolises and demonstrates fundamental problems with the criminal justice system’. It seems that no one believes Tony Stock did the 1970 robbery – except apparently the Court of Appeal.
We will be formally writing to you again to you to re-consider your decision. We hope that your much-stated commitment to doing what you personally consider to be the right thing can extend to acting upon the Justice Committee’s recommendations as the obvious right thing to do here.
Professor Julie Price is head of pro bono at Cardiff Law School, and director of Cardiff Law School Innocence Project; Higher Education Academy National Teaching Fellow. Julie’s background is as a solicitor and Legal Practice Course tutor. Her voluntary positions include being a founding trustee of the Access to Justice Foundation's Welsh Regional Support Trust, Reaching Justice Wales. She is a steering group member of LawWorks Cymru, and on the advisory group for the Centre for Criminal Appeals and FACT (Falsely Accused Carers and Teachers)