NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Britain Attempts To Avoid Wrongful Convictions

February 18, 2000

Britain has established a new official body, called the Criminal Cases Review Commission, in an effort to uncover and help reverse wrongful convictions. The 14-member panel came into being as a result of advances in applying DNA research to criminal cases.

Here's how the commission is constituted and operates:

  • It is composed of former police officials, academics, lawyers and government officials -- aided by an 80-member staff.
  • It has full legal access to any public records, can order tests, take statements, question witnesses and review any case that claims to have new evidence or that raises a legal argument not made at trial or on appeal.
  • If a convicted person petitions the Court of Appeal and his petition is rejected, he can ask the commission to consider the case -- if new evidence or a new legal point is involved.
  • If commission members decide a case should be reopened, they order the Court of Appeal to take a second look.

The CCRC was established by Parliament in 1997. As of January 1, it had received 2,996 applications, investigated 1,402 and referred 71 to the Court of Appeal for reconsideration.

The court has decided 32 of them -- upholding eight convictions and quashing 24.

While some legal experts here are anxious to import such a system to the U.S., others point out that such a panel could be challenged here on constitutional grounds. Since it involves a civilian panel that dictates to the judicial branch, there would obviously be a problem with the separation of powers doctrine.

Source: Richard Willing, "A Second, and Likely, Last Chance," USA Today, February 18, 2000.


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