Miscarriages of justice may be out of fashion, but they haven't gone away
By Jon Robins
Another breakthrough in the Susan May case last week, one of a small number of alleged wrongful convictions that seemingly unravel and attract greater disquiet as the years pass. Last week the Guardian revealed how Greater Manchester police failed to follow up a "good suspect" (in their words)- a heroin addict with convictions for burgling the homes of elderly people. May served 12 years for the murder of her 89-year old aunt, a crime she has always insisted she never committed.
May addressed the recent Innocence Network UK (INUK) symposium which called for urgent reform of the reform of the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC). The CCRC was established some 15 years ago in the wake of judicial scandals such as Birmingham Six and Guildford Four. "I thought it was a beacon of light which would ensure those wrongly convicted got justice," May told delegates.
When the CCRC was set up, May was in Durham prison where she spent seven years of a 12 year sentence She is thought to have been the first lifer to protest their innocence throughout a sentence to be released on her tariff date. May claims to have been told repeatedly by parole officers, psychologists and prison staff that unless she admitted her guilt, she would never leave. "Even though I may be free from the confines of jail I am not free," she said at the event. "I still feel locked up because my conviction still stands." (...)
The entire article may be read on the Guardian's website
Presentation of the article
By Aurélie Poupard, 3e année, Licence Droit BIngue, Université du Havre
Miscarriages of justice are conviction and punishment of a person for a crime he didn't commit. Generally, these persons claim their innocence and are jailed for years. A few of them see their innocence recognized by a court of appeal.
The journalist gives 2 examples :
– Susan May : 12-year sentence for the murder of her 89-year old aunt
– Sam Hallam : jailed for life in 2005 for murder
It is a difficult situation to stand because :
Not only a question of being freed from jail but to be publicly recognized as innocent
Susan May : “Even though I may be free from the confines of jail I am not free. I still feel locked up because my conviction still stands.”
It is a rare phenomena, “small number of alleged wrongful convictions” but still exists, and there is still a lot of debate about it, despite the evolution of the law and the increasing protection of human rights especially the rights of defence and the right to a fair trial.
Some institutions have been created to review these cases :
Criminal Cases Review Commission :
It was established in 1997 to investigate possible miscarriages of justice in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. If the commission considers that the case is a possible miscarriage of justice, it refers the case in front of the Court of Appeal. The goal is to find new evidences, new clues, new suspects that can be hidden voluntary or not by the police during the investigation
– Innocence Network UK :
This is an affiliation of organizations dedicated to providing free professional legal and investigative services to individuals seeking to prove innocence of crimes for which they have been convicted and working to redress the causes of wrongful convictions.
Call for reform :
The Innocence Network UK calls to reform the Criminal Cases Review Commission, which is criticized for its length to examine the cases, so a few cases were examined finally. On 1, 000 requests each year, the commission rejects 96% of them.
Innocence Network UK proposed to replace the “real possibility” test, but it was rejected by the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice. Indeed, the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 states that only cases with the “real possibility” of the conviction being overturned can be referred to the court of appeal. The Act of Parliament in itself reduces the power of the commission and thus the number of cases which could reviewed.
It is an international phenomena :
It does not exist only in UK, there are cases in US, like the example of Troy Davis, sentenced to death despite the fact that there were no material proofs and only testimonies
I think this is a great thing that a commission exists to review this kind of cases. But the big problem is the number of cases which are examined, it is necessary to find a means in order to examine more cases et make procedure shorter.
Pour aller plus loin (note from the teacher):