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Tuesday, March 30, 1999 Published at 03:50 GMT 04:50 UK


MPs warn criminal review commission

Campaign: James Hanratty's father continued to protest his son's innocence

MPs have warned that the body set up to right miscarriages of justice is leaving those wrongly convicted of crimes languishing in jails for "unacceptable delays".

The BBC's Jane Peel: "Every day the commission receives four more cases"
The cross-party Homes Affairs Select Committee report said that the Criminal Cases Review Commission must speed up its decision making.

The body, set up to allow impartial study of fresh evidence in suspected cases of wrongful imprisonment, yesterday referred the case of James Hanratty, the A6 murderer, back to the Court of Appeal 36 years after he was hanged for crimes he always protested he had never committed.

But despite this move and the high-profile quashing of the conviction of Derek Bentley - hanged for murder 45 years ago - the MPs said that many of today's prisoners will have served their sentences before their cases are reviewed - and the backlog is growing by the day.

[ image: Mahmood Mattan: First sentence quashed]
Mahmood Mattan: First sentence quashed
While they criticised the commission, the MPs said that the body had successfully won the public's trust and established itself as an independent authority held in wide regard by lawyers since it was set up two years ago.

But the commission was in danger of being "meticulous to a fault" as it spends months examining every detail of a case before making a decision on referral to the Court of Appeal.

While the commission's referral had resulted in altered judgements in 10 of the 13 cases sent to the Appeal Court, it was not the body's role to try and choose cases which were likely to bring it success, said the MPs.

Instead, it should refer cases to the Appeal Court if there is a "real possibility" that an appeal would be upheld.

[ image: Ruth Ellis: Campaigners hopeful]
Ruth Ellis: Campaigners hopeful
Although this would be a slightly less stringent test than currently applied, it would lead to the commission dealing with more cases, said the MPs.

Latest figures show that the commission has 2,325 cases on its books, 1,106 of which are open.

Of these, 492 are or have been actively worked on and 13 sent to the Court of Appeal.

The first conviction to be quashed was that of murder against Mahmood Mattan - hanged in September 1952 in Cardiff for a murder he did not commit.

Among the high profile cases awaiting examination is that of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be executed in the UK for murdering her lover.

The report welcomed the additional £1.3m in funding for more staff but added that money was not the only solution.

A spokeswoman for the commission acknowledged the report's praise that it had got off to a good start.

She said they would be studying the recommendations of the report carefully to ensure the best possible use was made of resources.

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29 Mar 99†|†UK
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