The Chairman of the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), Mr Richard Foster, retired from his role in October 2018 and gave a farewell speech to University College London about his time at the CCRC.
Mr Foster opened his speech by highlighting the case of Mahmoud Mattanwho was wrongly hanged on the 8th September 1952 for the murder of Lily Volpert. He stated Mr Mattan’s conviction was amongst one of the very first referrals made by the CCRC and explained the police had not disclosed vital evidence in this case. He then went on to say the Commission should be applauded for referring Mr Mattan’s case to the Court of Appeal as this resulted in the case being quashed in the late 1990’s all thanks to the CCRC’s referral.
Prior to the setting up of the CCRC, cases that might be miscarriages of justice were investigated by the Home Office C3 department. After the Court of Appeal had overturned the convictions of the Birmingham 6 and Guilford 4 it was decided that the Home Office C3 department should no longer be responsible for carrying out investigations into potential miscarriages of justice. My own case was with the Home Office C3 department at the time when the decision was taken to set up the CCRC and as a result the Home Office wrote to me stating my case would be transferred to the newly formed CCRC, and it duly was.
Media articles, news items and comment pieces were given by the CCRC, the Home Office and numerous miscarriages of justice organisations about the scale of work to be carried out by this new Commission. It was estimated that there were between 40 and 60 cases of currently convicted individuals that were possible miscarriage of justice cases that were in need of a review. So, at its founding, it seemed there were going to be plenty of resources available for each case to be properly looked at. From 1998 onwards hope was strongly felt by those individuals who were having their cases investigated by the CCRC, many, including mine, were referred to the Court of Appeal, and some had a successful appeal as a result of the referral. But somehow it all went terribly wrong for the CCRC and for the innocent in jail almost from the start. The CCRC began to promote itself, stating that if you had lost your first appeal and you still believed that your case was a miscarriage of justice, then you should make an application to them because they would look again and thoroughly investigate all that the convicted told them about their case. In over 20 years since the formation of this organisation, 23,000 applications have been investigated by the CCRC, of which 97% have been rejected, as if each has been properly investigated, they cannot possibly have been. In my own case for instance, I have repeatedly stated to the Commission that non-disclosure of evidence proving my innocence was a key feature on my submissions to them. Over a ten-year period, between 2002 and 2012, I submitted clear proof of this, yet the CCRC never investigated a single non-disclosure issue in my case other than on the non-disclosure of case photographs, an issue which was only partly resolved as many photographs are still not available to my legal team. I have written about this issue in detail previously and you can read about it here.
Mr Foster stated in his farewell speech that he has been honoured and privileged to serve as the Chair of the Commission and says that it is wonderful that the CCRC referred Mr Mattan’s case to the Court of Appeal, but that was 36 years too late for Mr Mattan, and it will be too late for other miscarriage of justice cases such as that of my friend the late Susan May,and as I grow older, soon too late for me.
Non-disclosure of evidence by the police and CPS is a highlighted issue as a cause of miscarriages of justice, and this failing was raised by the new DPP, Max Hill, when he took office in October 2018. However, even when the CCRC know that this happened in my particular case, and while Mr Foster was the Chairman of the Commission, he and they were happy to turn a blind eye to my submissions, burying their actions behind the fact that they’ve had to look at 22,999 other cases over the last 20 years, so if they made the odd mistake that would be understandable!
Had the CCRC continued investigating 30-40 cases a year as was expected when it was founded, then the CCRC would have been easily scrutinised over the way they have operated over the last 20 years. Instead, Mr Foster is honoured to have headed up an institution that has failed me, Susan May, and no doubt, hundreds of other miscarriages of justice. An institution that hides behind the numbers and lack of funding to conceal their absolute failure to carry out their remit properly that has been declared as “not fit for purpose” by miscarriage of justice victims, the legal profession and the media alike.