We tend to think that miscarriages of justice are a thing of the past. A series of headlines we were beaten over the head with during the 1980s. Something that rarely happens now that we’ve moved away from unreliable eyewitness statements and towards forensic science to provide evidence.
This is one of the biggest misconceptions about the criminal justice system out there. According to the founder of the UK Innocence Project, Dr Michael Naughton:
‘Miscarriages of justice are routine, even mundane features of the criminal justice system. They are systemic.’
Accurate figures for how many miscarriages of justice have taken place in the UK will probably never be identified. But one way to assess the extent of the damage is to look at the number of convictions that have been overturned.
The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the last hope for people battling miscarriages of justice, have since 1997 reviewed over 20,000 applications. Of the 653 cases they referred to the courts, over 430 appeals have been successfully won.
That’s two thirds of the cases referred that turned out to be miscarriages of justice. And the situation is only getting worse.
The number of applications to the CCRC has sky rocketed in recent years from 885 in 2003/2004 to 1,439 last year. And to top it all off, the levels of funding received by the CCRC by the MoJ has been slowly declining for years.
- In 2003/2004, the CCRC received £7m
- In 2009/2010, the CCRC received £6.5m
- In 2017/2018, its income dropped to £5.6m.
I’m Kathy Burke and in 2012 an old family friend wrote to me from prison asking for my help. He had just been moved to a Category B prison and was finding it hard to keep up with all the legal correspondence regarding his case. Michael asked me to write to his solicitor, his barrister and the CPS on his behalf. I didn’t hesitate. He was my friend. Before long Michael sent me some more of his paperwork. I was horrified as I read through his case notes. I was writing all his letters now. There was some paperwork I couldn’t do, like applications to the Court of Appeal.
That’s when I heard about Ray. Ray is serving a 13-year sentence for a bungled cash depot raid that he didn’t do. He had a whole exhibit withheld at his trial, and this would have acquitted him. Ray, and hundreds of others just like him, is on his own. Ray is a self-educated man and has taken it upon himself to help other inmates with their legal matters. And when further research was need on specific laws and parameters, I’ve been there to send it to them.
It’s tricky getting that information in and out of prison. The prison mail system can be a nightmare and efficiency varies wildly between prisons. In some prisons an inmate can receive a letter in 2 days and in other it takes 2-3 weeks.
Correspondence on legal matters like these are protected under Rule 39 in prison. Under this rule, you can send and receive letters in prison and the prison staff won’t read them.
They just open them in front of you and then hand them over. Email is an option as well. Since most prisons have “email a prisoner”, I used to copy and paste the info we needed to exchange onto the template and the prisoner would receive it the following morning.
But the biggest obstacle standing in Michael and Ray’s way is the fact that you can no longer get Legal Aid whilst in prison. So its not just a case of calling a solicitor and asking them to fight it in court for you. You have to do all the work by yourself and usually without any prior knowledge of the criminal justice system or the law. Cuts to Legal Aid and to the CCRC are having devastating effects on peoples’ lives and I can’t stand by and watch it happen any longer.
Ray came up with the name None’s Above The Law and since starting our work we’ve had many inmates contact us for help. Right now we’ve got six different cases and we’ve had to refuse many more due to lack of resources.
I want to see justice carried out correctly.
I am not a campaigner walking the streets with a sandwich board. I actively try to help as many of the people as I can.
In this series, I will profile the six men’s cases we are currently working on.
We hope that the more attention we bring to these issues the more help the victims of miscarriages of justice will receive from those who’s job it is to protect them: the state.