The appeals process allows individuals to challenge their conviction or sentence if they disagree with the verdict or penalty. In this way, appeals serve an important function in correcting miscarriages of justice and ensuring that the criminal law is applied consistently and fairly.
The Law Commission is reviewing the law to ensure that courts have powers that enable the effective, efficient and appropriate resolution of appeals.
In recent years, there have been worries about the piecemeal way in which the law governing criminal appeals has developed. Several bodies – including the Justice Select Committee and the Westminster Commission on Miscarriages of Justice – have argued that there is a need for reform. There have been calls to review various aspects of the law governing appeals, such as whether the tests used to grant an appeal are just, and whether current arrangements enable the effective use of court resources.
In its issues paper, the Law Commission is seeking views from criminal law practitioners and those with experience of the criminal appeals process to identify problems with the current law that may be preventing the effective delivery of justice.
Responses can be submitted to the Commission until 31 October 2023.
Commenting on the issues paper, Professor Penney Lewis, Criminal Law Commissioner said:
“The appeals process is essential for rectifying miscarriages of justice and ensuring the fair and consistent application of the criminal law. In recent years, there have been many differing views on how this process can be improved to allow for the efficient and effective resolution of appeals.
“In our comprehensive review, we will consider proposals for reform that will ensure the appeals process provides a robust safeguard against wrongful convictions and instils confidence in the criminal justice system.
“We therefore welcome a wide range of responses to our issues paper to help us identify if there are areas of the law that are not working.”
A spokesperson from the Criminal Appeals Lawyers Association (CALA), said:
“CALA wholeheartedly welcomes the Law Commission’s consideration of reform of the criminal appeals system in England and Wales.
“This signifies an important opportunity to bring about a more just and equitable post-conviction legal landscape. We shall work with the Law Commission to strengthen the appeals system so that miscarriages of justice can be properly identified and rectified.”
The issues paper
In its issues paper, the Law Commission provides background on the current appeals process, including existing ambiguities and inconsistencies, and asks for further information on a variety of issues, such as:
- Is there a need to reform the process for appealing decisions made in magistrates’ courts?
- Are the powers of the Court of Appeal, the senior court that hears appeals in England and Wales, adequate and appropriate?
- Do the tests used to grant an appeal make it too difficult to correct miscarriages of justice?
- Are the Attorney General’s powers to refer cases to the Court of Appeal, where the sentence is “unduly lenient” or a legal error has been made, adequate and appropriate?
- Are appeals hampered by laws governing the retention and disclosure of evidence for a case and access to records of proceedings?
The Law Commission encourages responses from anyone with experience of, or expertise in, the criminal appeals process by 31 October 2023.
Responses to the issues paper will help inform the Law Commission’s consultation paper, due to be published in 2024, which will contain provisional proposals for reform. There will be further public consultation on the provisional proposals in that paper before the Commission publishes its final recommendations for reform. It will then be up to Government to decide whether to implement the recommendations.