CCRC at 20: Should we be celebrating?
It was 20 years ago today that the first miscarriage of justice watchdog began its work. A milestone has been reached but should we be celebrating the Criminal Cases Review Commission’s anniversary?
Our innocence project at Cardiff Law School is youthful in comparison – we’re almost 12 years old. Over a dozen years, we’ve looked closely at about 40 cases where people are maintaining innocence, and we’ve unearthed serious concerns with the safety of many convictions. This is, admittedly, only a miniscule number compared to the review workload of the CCRC, and to the regular caseload of practising criminal appeals lawyers.
Along the way, we’ve educated about 750 students about very real difficulties with the criminal appeals system. They have seen individuals destroyed and families torn apart in a way that you just don’t experience from law textbooks.
What is the CCRC and how does it operate? What dealings do we have with that organisation, and what do we think of those encounters? How easy or difficult is it in reality to overturn a wrongful conviction? What are we learning?
We will discuss such matters in a series of articles over coming weeks. They will be written largely by some of our current students, with contributions from families of people maintaining innocence. This series will be our contribution to marking the important 20-year milestone for the body with which we have a sometimes constructive, but often frustrating, relationship as a “stakeholder”.
Over the past nine years, every March/April we have held an annual ‘innocence week’ at Cardiff, aiming to raise public awareness of the issue of the wrongful conviction of innocent people. So, thank you, CCRC, for having your significant birthday at the same time that we usually turn our attention to awareness raising!
Ambitiously, we hope to present 20 articles for 20 years about 20 different issues or cases. Easter and Exams may intervene to stop the flow of student comment, but we’ll give it a try!
If our articles over the next few weeks indicate an appetite for wider student contribution to issues topical for Justice Gap, then we’ll think about further developing this (thanks to Jon and Justice Gap for facilitating this idea).
Is all this of any interest to those who consider themselves a million miles removed from the alien world of miscarriages of justice? We hope so – and if you are interested in the integrity of the justice system, then you should care about how this little-understood, cash-starved and overwhelmed organisation is functioning. There is plenty of interest in the topic of wrongful conviction generated by the likes of the US shows such as the Netflix series ‘Making a Murderer’ and the podcast ‘Serial’ but (we respectfully suggest) some of that should be directed to matters closer to home.
Should we be celebrating 20 years of the CCRC? The jury is out for now.
Read Paul May on 20 years of the CCRC (‘Partly excellent, partly abysmal‘).
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)