A Parliamentary inquiry which made recommendations to improve the way potential miscarriages of justice are investigated is unlikely to receive a formal response from the Government.
The Westminster Commission on Miscarriages of Justice published its final report in March 2021, concluding that the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) suffers from problems which prevent it from taking action over some apparently-wrongful convictions. The report made a series of recommendations to the government, many of which were welcomed by the CCRC itself.
In April 2021, then junior justice minister Alex Chalk offered an initial response on behalf of the government during a debate in Westminster Hall. In his speech he said: “The report makes more than 30 recommendations, covering a broad area. I hope [members] will forgive me if I do not reflect on each individually, because time does not allow for that. I can say that the MOJ will consider each recommendation made for the Department in detail.”
However, asked in Parliament this month whether the Government would respond to the Westminster Commission report, Chalk’s successor James Cartlidge suggested that Chalk’s comments amounted to the government’s response, adding: “During that debate, the minister noted the CCRC’s good performance, the additional funding provided to it, and the position on the most significant recommendations in the report.”
The Westminster Commission was established in 2019 by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Miscarriages of Justice. Among the findings of its final report were that the CCRC suffers from underfunding, lack of independence and a remit which prevents it from taking action over some apparently wrongful convictions.
When the Commission’s findings were published, in an 88-page report called In the Interests of Justice, one of its co-chairs, the former Solicitor General and Conservative peer Lord Garnier QC, said: “As the last hope for the unjustly convicted, [the CCRC] must remain alert to the need to be properly equipped to deal with wrongful convictions. We believe our recommendations would lead to an improvement in the CCRC’s investigatory work, prevent it from being too wary of the Court of Appeal, and allow it to maintain its independence.”
The other co-chair, crossbench peer Baroness Stern CBE, said: “The weight of the evidence we have considered leads us to conclude that, although there is much to praise in the work of the CCRC, there is room for improvement.”
The Westminster Commission questioned officials and lawyers and took evidence from 113 people who had applied to the CCRC. The CCRC welcomed the Commission’s call for a review of the “real possibility” test, the benchmark for CCRC decisions to send cases back to the Court of Appeal.
Other members of the six-strong Westminster Commission were Erwin James, the Editor in Chief of Inside Time; Dame Anne Owers, National Chair of Independent Monitoring Boards and a former non-executive director of the CCRC; Michelle Nelson QC, a barrister at Red Lion Chambers; and Dr Philip Joseph, a consultant forensic psychiatrist.