01 December 2010

Meeting at House of Commons

We had a great meeting last night.  Very well attended despite the weather. The main purpose was to call for a review of the CCRC. Interestingly other issues were raised about the system in general...John McDonnell M.P said there needs to be a debate about the severity of the Court of Appeal. John is now to press forward to arrange a meeting with Ken Clarke and also the Home Affairs Committee and do an adjournment debate on the role of the CCRC and what has to be its' best practice. The general view was that in the beginning the CCRC were operating within its' original remit but over the last years a different culture, spirit and methodology has become the norm.  Many are frustrated that the CCRC is not fulfilling its' organisation mission. Michael Naughton pointed out that the desire is for the CCRC to be fit for purpose. It is always trying to second guess how the Court of Appeal would treat an appeal and despite the CCRC claiming to be totally Independent, it is not because they are heavily reliant on the system. Not willing to stand up and be counted. They only wish for fresh evidence and do not treat a case as a whole. Bob Woffinden gave statistics on CCRC referrals. They have 'overturned' 304 convictions but many of those were sentence reductions, not all quashed. Some include dogs without muzzles in public places.  It was not primarily set up to deal with Judicial errors. In the last 6 years 7 cases have been rectified.  The CCRC he said has not been accomplishing very much at all and has had before them many cases which should have been referred. The Commission should have far better experts to examine evidence and should be nurturing such experts. Henry Blaxand Q.C felt the CCRC were worn down by a system which constantly knocks them back and he went further to say there is a problem within the Court of Appeal. He also stated that the Commission should have 11 Commissioners but now only has 9 due to cuts. He felt that there was a problem with the quality of the Statement of Reasons issued by the CCRC. In many cases the root problem comes down to a failure of original defence lawyers at trial and the reluctance of the system to acknowledge this shortcoming within its' own profession. What Henry Blaxland would like to see is a reinvigorated and better funded system than what we have now. I spoke on my case and the frustration I feel in being refused by the CCRC when the main Prosecution witnesses are now all deemed to be unreliable. My last appeal failed because the Appeal Judges stated they found those witnesses to be credible, reliable and IMPRESSIVE!!! I want those Judges to be told that those prosecution witnesses have now been found by the CCRC to be unreliable and certainly can no longer be classed as impressive. I also said that the Commission should have a face to face meeting with the applicant, something which does not happen now. By the amount of people there last night it is obvious there is a huge problem and hopefully now we can progress all the comments and areas discussed to ensure change happens. It is important for those who are fighting this system to get in touch with their own M.P and attempt to get them on board.  If we can raise awareness with John McDonnell at the helm supported by his fellow M.P.s then we will be heard. Worryingly we were told that a debate was going on in the House of Lords relating to cost cutting re the review on quangos and the CCRC was listed for such a review/merger under the quangos review. We want more funding for investigations into wrongful convictions not less and as I pointed out with any body like the CCRC it has to be subjected to scrutiny just as in the past the PCA was scrutinised and replaced by the IPCC. We need a robust investigatory body which does operate independently and is willing to challenge the system.  I truly believe that at its' onset and for the first few years the CCRC was doing the job expected of them. It has changed and not for the better...let us at least have a thorough review of its role and original remit and move forward to ensure we can have confidence in the system. To be wrongly convicted is the worst thing ever but to have to fight a system which is surrounded by red tape and bureaucracy just adds to the whole nightmare. Thanks again to everyone who took part last night and let us all try to get as many M.Ps on board so the problems identified can be rectified. It will not be easy but the passion shown last night will I am sure go along way to making our voices heard.