[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Monday, 18 September 2006, 16:30 GMT 17:30 UK
Ironing out the legal loopholes
By Jon Silverman
Legal affairs analyst

John Reid
John Reid wants to rid the justice system of loopholes

The home secretary has said he wants to "rebalance criminal justice in favour of victims" and has launched a consultation paper. But are changes really needed?

The government's consultation paper on amending the test for quashing criminal convictions is the second phase of a campaign to redress what ministers see as an imbalance in favour of defendants.

In April, former Home Secretary Charles Clarke announced plans to cap the compensation offered to victims of miscarriages of justice and to limit the amount of legal aid to pursue such claims.

Mr Clarke suggested that one possible outcome of a review of the statutory test for appeals was the Scottish verdict of "not proven".

That idea has not found its way into the consultation paper, but the thrust of the proposal is controversial enough without it.

At issue is the government's contention that the Court of Appeal has adopted a test for determining the safety of a conviction which can lead to the appeal being upheld "even where the Court is satisfied as to the appellant's guilt".

There have been cases where, in quashing convictions, the Court of Appeal has made clear that its decision was not a finding of innocence

While it is true that the appeal judges (and the Law Lords) have ruled that gross procedural irregularity might be sufficient to quash a conviction in such circumstances, the figures do not suggest that it happens very often.

In 2005, 45 convictions were referred to the Appeal Court, a tiny percentage of the cases which came before a jury.

Of those, 23 were found to be unsafe.

There have been cases where, in quashing convictions, the Court of Appeal has made clear that its decision was not a finding of innocence.

Frankly, this is all about the government tugging its forelock to the Daily Mail
Professor John Spencer

In 2000, freeing the M25 Three - three men convicted of murder and armed robbery - the appeal judges said that the reason for their decision was a conspiracy between the police and a key informant.

But the case against all three appellants was "formidable".

'Partisan agenda'

However, in most cases where a procedural irregularity might have influenced the outcome, the Appeal Court is likely to order a re-trial.

Professor John Spencer, professor of law at Cambridge University, said there didn't seem to be a problem which needed fixing.

"Frankly, this is all about the government tugging its forelock to the Daily Mail. Although the Appeal Court is readier to entertain defence appeals than it used to be, it does not tend to quash convictions purely on a technicality. The judges should be left alone to get on with it."

Some legal experts - including Professor Spencer - believe that the whole criminal appeal process has serious flaws which need to be re-examined.

But they argue that by focusing on the statutory test for appeals, the government is pushing a partisan agenda to "rebalance justice" rather than grasping fundamental issues of jurisprudence.


SEE ALSO
Profile: John Reid
14 Sep 06 |  UK Politics

RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific