The Commission has been asked by the Government to examine the need for reforms to the appeals system, to ensure that the courts have the right powers to enable the effective, efficient and appropriate resolution of appeals.
The comprehensive review, which will include a public consultation, follows calls from several leading bodies, including the Justice Select Committee and Westminster Commission on Miscarriages of Justice, for improvements to the law on appeals to be considered.
The new project will consider the need for reform, with particular focus on identifying any inconsistencies, uncertainties and gaps in the law that may be hindering the ability of the appeals system to function as effectively and fairly as possible.
As part of the new review, areas that will be considered by the Law Commission include:
- The powers of the Court of Appeal – the senior court that hears appeals in England and Wales – including its power to order a re-trial of a case or substitute a conviction for another offence.
- Whether there is evidence that the “safety test” – the test used to grant an appeal against a conviction on the grounds that it is “unsafe” (for example, because of a major error in the trial) – may make it difficult to correct any miscarriages of justice.
- The test used by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) – the independent body responsible for investigating potential miscarriages of justice – that governs when it can refer a case back to the Court of Appeal for further consideration.
- The Attorney General’s powers to refer a case to the Court of Appeal because the sentence is “unduly lenient”.
- The Crown Court’s sentencing powers for a new trial that is the result of an appeal.
- Laws governing the retention and disclosure of evidence for a case, including after conviction, and retention and access to records of proceedings.
Commenting on the new project, Professor Penney Lewis, the Law Commissioner for Criminal Law, said:
“The appeals system has faced calls for reform in recent years – often marked by conflicting views on the areas of law that should be changed.
“Our wide-ranging review of appeals will look at the evidence behind competing arguments for reform. We will closely scrutinise where the law is working well, and where it may be falling short.
“It’s essential that there is clarity, efficiency and fairness in criminal appeals at all levels. By consulting with the public including those who have direct experience of the appeals process, and identifying areas for reform, we can help ensure that there is confidence in the justice system and its ability to remedy any wrongs.”
Helen Pitcher OBE, Chairman of the Criminal Cases Review Commission, said:
“We have called for a review into the appeals process for a number of years and look forward to working closely with the Law Commission on this vitally important appraisal.
“The CCRC is committed to finding and investigating miscarriages of justice and it is right that the appeals system is regularly and robustly scrutinised.”
Review of appeals: Terms of reference The full list of areas to be reviewed by the Law Commission are set out in the project’s Terms of Reference, agreed with the Government.
The Commission’s review will begin with initial scoping and pre-consultation engagement with stakeholders, followed by a published consultation paper containing provisional proposals for reform, a formal consultation process, and a published final report containing recommendations for reform.
Visit the project page for further information.