The formation of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 fruited as a result of a recommendation made by the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice regarding the need for an act of parliament which tackled the problem of miscarriages justice. Section 2 (1) of the Criminal Appeal Act states that the appeal court "shall allow an appeal against conviction if they think that the conviction is unsafe" and "shall dismiss such an appeal in any other case. " (Sourced from Eddey and Darbyshire on the English Legal System, P.Darbyshire)
In this manner, the Court of Appeal gave convicts the opportunity to appeal against their previous judgement should their conviction be regarded as "unsafe. " The Act also empowers the Court of Appeal to receive new evidence which was not submitted at the initial trial. There are certain criteria which the court must assess before granting the entry of any new evidence, such as whether there is a justifiable reason why it was not submitted previously.
(Eddey and Darbyshire on the English Legal System, P. Darbyshire) This aspect assists the court in congregating sufficient evidence to make the most viable judgement without prejudicing other parties. This is one manner in which the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 has helped reduce the impacts of miscarriages of justice. A second approach taken by the Act in order to reduce injustice is the ability of the Court of Appeal to refer a specific element of the case to the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
This commission is responsible for the investigation of the said element and its judgement is often used to determine the outcome of the case. This course is used when the element in question is so essential that the case could not be determined without regards to it. The Criminal Cases Review Commission was a creation of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995. The commission has certain criteria to conform to, such as it must consist of at least 11 people, all of whom are appointed by the Queen upon the recommendation of the Prime Minister.
Another condition was that the commission must consist of at least one third legally qualified persons and two thirds with knowledge or experience of the criminal justice system. The commission came into effect in 1997. (Cases and Materials on the English Legal System, M. Zander. ) The commission has the power to refer a case to the Court of Appeal and has the ability to order the arbitration not only for convictions, but also for sentences.
The criteria for referencing a case from the Crown Court to the Court of Appeal is that the commission "considers that there is a real possibility that the conviction, verdict, finding or sentencing would not be upheld were the references to be made… because of an argument, or evidence, not raised in the proceedings. " This manner of conditional referencing reduces cases where the accused appeals just because there are provisions to do so, thus consuming a considerable amount of time, money and resources.
In conclusion, the Act appears to be effectively reducing the impacts of unjust decisions, whilst minimising the implications of unjust appeals. The Act has provoked the creation of the Criminal Justice Review Commission, which acts as the management and administration behind the right to appeal. It is fact that there will always be miscarriages of justice in any legal system the world over, often with tremendous implications, occasionally amounting to a wasted lifetime, as in the case of the Birmingham Six where the accused served 16 years unjust imprisonment.
However, it is true that the only people who know the true sequence of events regarding a case are the parties themselves, it is up to the legal system to deduce the information presented and bestow the fate of the parties unto them. There is great difficulty in assessing whether a case is in accordance with the facts presented, or whether it is an elaborate faade. "Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere" -Martin Luther King Jr. 1963
- Eddey and Darbyshire on the English Legal System, P. Darbyshire Cases and Materials on the English Legal System, M. Zander www.bbc.co.uk