Prisoners denied access to forensic evidence in bid to prove their innocence | Right
Prisoners convicted of serious crimes who could be victims of miscarriages of justice are being denied access to crucial forensic information that could prove their innocence, experts have warned.
Activists are calling for legal reforms to improve access to evidence that can help prove the innocence of those wrongfully convicted. They say a Supreme Court ruling in 2014 is effectively being used to deny access to police records and evidence.
The Law Commission, the independent statutory body that reviews the law in England and Wales, confirmed this weekend that it is reviewing the Criminal Appeals Act.
Appel, a charity and law firm that fights miscarriages of justice, wants any review to include an overhaul of disclosure rules and a new independent body to oversee the scheme.
James Burley, an investigator on the appeal, said: “I am convinced that there are innocent people who cannot access evidence because the law on post-conviction disclosure is so restrictive. It’s incredibly unfair.
Lawyers or investigators working on possible miscarriages of justice cases are routinely denied access to evidence, while court transcripts can only be made available at the cost of thousands of pounds.
The Supreme Court case that set a legal threshold for access to post-conviction evidence concerned the case of former salesman Kevin Nunn of Woolpit in Suffolk. Nunn was convicted at Ipswich Crown Court in November 2006 of the murder of his former girlfriend, Dawn Walker.
The court had heard that her body was discovered naked from the waist down beside the River Lark in Suffolk and that her body was set on fire with petrol. Nunn was convicted despite the fact that there was no forensic evidence linking him to the crime and he had no history of violence.
It was revealed in court that semen was found on the victim, even though the court was told that Nunn was indeed infertile. The semen was not DNA tested at the time, and Nunn requested access to the evidence for new modern testing to see if there was a match to a known offender or possible new suspect.
In June 2014, the Supreme Court dismissed his case, ruling that access to these documents is only required when “there appears to be a real possibility that further investigation will reveal something that could affect the safety of sentence “. The court ruled that this threshold had not been reached.
“An innocent man’s life and the life of his family have been destroyed,” said Nunn’s sister, Brigitte Butcher. “Kevin is still in jail after 17 years and will continue to maintain his innocence as he has since March 16, 2005, when he was charged with murder.”
The case had wider ramifications, with police forces routinely blocking access to evidence after conviction, citing the Supreme Court ruling.
Louise Shorter, founder of Inside Justice, which explores potential miscarriages of justice and looked into the Nunn case, said: ‘Access to these exhibits used to be on a case-by-case basis, but now there appears to be a absolute general refusal. , with forces saying we only release documents to the Criminal Case Review Board [CCRC].”
The CCRC is a statutory body that looks into potential miscarriages of justice and can demand the production of documents from the police.
“The Nunn judgment was intended to stop fishing expeditions,” another investigator observed last week. “But it’s only when you go on a fishing expedition that you catch fish.”
The appeal says one of the cases the charity has been denied access to records is that of Roger Khan, a vulnerable defendant convicted of attempted murder in Newton Abbot in Devon in 2011. Khan represented himself at his trial.
The charity discovered that one of the police investigators had a personal relationship with a possible alternate suspect, but police refused a request for disclosure on the exact links and the safeguards put in place to ensure that the investigation was not flawed.
An attempt to challenge the decision by judicial review was dismissed in 2019 on the grounds that the charity had failed to meet the threshold required in the Nunn decision.
Campaigners say the CCRC uses its powers conservatively and will generally only look into cases that have already been appealed.
A submission of the appeal for Law Commission review warns that the Nunn judgment “leaves wrongfully convicted defendants without an effective means of accessing any evidence held by law enforcement that compromises the safety of their conviction”.
The Law Commission said: ‘In criminal appeals the Lord Chancellor [Dominic Raab] suggested that the commission should review the law, with a view to ensuring that the courts have powers that enable the effective, efficient and proper resolution of appeals.
“We look forward to moving this work forward and are currently in discussions on the scope of the project.”