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Home affairs correspondent Reevel Alderson
"The heavy workload has surprised the commission"
 real 56k

Monday, 31 July, 2000, 09:41 GMT 10:41 UK
Court watchdog wants new powers
Campbell and Steele
The SCRC is investigating the ice cream wars case
The new body set up to investigate alleged miscarriages of justice in Scotland has called for a change in the law to allow it easier access to confidential papers.

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission has already had to go to court in an attempt to obtain documents in one high profile case.

The commission, which was established in April last year, said the law should be changed to allow it to deal with a heavy workload without hindrance.

It has gone to the High Court in Edinburgh in an attempt to gain unprecedented access to all documents relating to the ice cream wars murder case.

Prof Sheila McLean
Prof Sheila McLean: Legal challenge
The commission has been considering allegations by Thomas TC Campbell, 47, and Joe Steele, 38, that they were wrongfully convicted of murdering six members of a Glasgow family in a fire in 1984.

However, its move has been contested by the Crown.

Commission chairwoman, Professor Sheila McLean, said: "What we've actually done is invite the court to interpret for us whether or not we have an automatic right to say 'we want this information and you can't refuse it unless you can prove why we shouldn't have it'.

"Or whether we have to prove why we need it."

The commission said its heavy workload showed the importance of being able to rectify cases where a court may have convicted the wrong person.

Additional workers

When it was established in April last year, the commission was passed a number of cases by the Scottish secretary, who previously considered miscarriage allegations.

However, it now has about 150 cases under consideration and has been forced to advertise for additional case workers.

So far it has issued 14 final decisions, with two referred back to the High Court.

Last month, the Polish-born soldier George Fraser had his sentence for indecent assault in 1948 quashed.

George Fraser
George Fraser was released after 52 years
The commission has also been considering the case of Lindsay Robb, jailed in 1995 for running guns for the Ulster Volunteer Force.

Prof McLean said the commission would give Scots greater confidence in the criminal justice system.

Speaking ahead of the publication of its annual report, she said: "The commission is an important part of the Scottish criminal justice system.

"The report will give the people of Scotland a better view of the workings of the commission and hopefully will increase public confidence in the system's ability to rectify miscarriages of justice in Scottish criminal convictions."

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See also:

10 Jul 00 | Scotland
New move in ice cream wars case
02 Jun 00 | Scotland
Man's 1948 conviction overturned
11 Jun 99 | UK Politics
Minister hears human rights plea
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