After lights out, in a cell at HMP Slade

By Justin Hawkins, Head of Communication at the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), from insidetime issue October 2013

Godber is three weeks into a long sentence. He has just been moved from the local prison to Slade, a Cat C, and is sharing a cell with Fletcher, a wise old boy who has been around the system for many years. Since he lost his appeal, Godber has been wondering about approaching the CCRC. One evening their conversation goes like thisÖ

After lights out, in a cell at HMP Slade

Godber: You awake Fletch?

Fletcher: No.

Godber: I've been wondering about applying to the CCRC, Denise says I might have a case.

Fletcher: Does she now? You'll want to get that cleared-up before your conjugal visit won't you.

Godber: Seriously Fletch, I've really been wondering about it. I reckon something went wrong with my case.

Fletcher: Yeah, mine too. Got caught, didn't I.

Godber: The trouble is I've heard people saying the CCRC are no good and a waste of time.

Fletcher: Listen Godber, you don't want to pay too much attention to those people. You'll probably find most of them applied to the CCRC themselves and they're just naffed-off because they got turned down.

You want to make-up your own mind about it. I wouldn't write them off so quick if I were you. I've heard some good things about them and I read somewhere they've sent more than 500 cases to the Court of Appeal. Think about it, that's almost three a month for the last 16 years, and three quarters of them won their appeals so they can't be all that bad can they?

Godber: Maybe you're right Fletch.

Fletcher: Anyway, at the end of the day, if you've lost your appeal, the CCRC are the only people that can get your case back to court. I take it that you have already tried to appeal haven't you? I mean appeal properly, to the court, not just asked your brief and then packed it in when he told you not to bother?

Godber: Why, is that important Fletch?

Fletcher: Course it is Godber. If you ain't at least tried to appeal, the CCRC probably ain't going to be any use to you. Sometimes they'll look at a case even when there hasn't been an appeal, but it's rare as hen's teeth. They can't usually help you if you've still got the right to appeal in the normal way.

Godber: Well, as it happens, I have appealed. At least I tried to I asked the court for leave to appeal but they knocked me back.

Fletcher: Well then, if you honestly think you were wrongly convicted, you should give the CCRC a go. What's stopping you?

Godber: I'm worried I'll end up with a longer sentence. The court can add time on can't they? I don't want to be inside for longer just because I applied to the CCRC.

Fletcher: You don't need to worry about that it can't happen. Its pretty rare for the Court of Appeal to increase someone's sentence they don't do it unless they think you're a real time-waster but if the CCRC sends your case for appeal, they can't increase your sentence at all.

Godber: Thanks Fletch, I never knew that. So what do I do now then just fill in a form and they look at what I've said and decide whether they believe me?

Fletcher: It ain't quite that simple. These people are no mugs and they can look into everything not only your side of the story, but everything else as well. They'll dig it all up if they need to. They've got special legal powers to get all the information they want and they can do all kinds of background checks and investigations.

Godber: Suppose I don't want them to?

Fletcher: It ain't your choice. Look, its not like these people are going to be working for you and taking your instructions like a brief would. They're independent so they won't be working for you, or the police, or anyone else. You've got to remember, if they look into your case, whatever they find whether its good or bad for you they'll weigh it all up when they decide whether to send your case for an appeal.

Godber: That's fine by me, I've got nothing to hide. Anyway Fletch, how come you know so much about the CCRC?

Fletcher: Before I got lumbered with you, I shared a cell with this bloke Smithy his name was he was doing eight years for a stabbing. He applied to the CCRC and he used to tell me all about it. It took a couple of years, but he ended up getting a new appeal and winning.

Godber: Really. What happened Fletch?

Fletcher: Well, the CCRC uncovered loads of stuff, but the main thing was some new evidence about the fella who grassed on old Smithy in the first place. Turns out he had a grudge against Smithy and against the fella who got stabbed. Anyway, once the police had Smithy in their sights, they never looked too hard at anyone else. CCRC found it all by digging through all the police records the sort of stuff nobody else could've got their hands on. They found out that it hadn't been disclosed to the defence when it should've been. CCRC sent it to the Court of Appeal, they quashed the conviction and old Smithy walked free.

Godber: Blimey! So I need something like that in my case then do I?

Fletcher: Not necessarily. All cases are different ain't they? What the CCRC say is that what they need to send a case for appeal is some important fresh evidence or legal argument that never came up at your trial or when you tried to appeal.

See, a lot of people waste their time by basically complaining to the CCRC that if they'd had a better brief at trial, or if they'd run a different defence, they would've been found not guilty. Now, hindsight may be a wonderful thing Godber, but in this instance, its no bloody use if all you can do with it is complain that you might have got off if you'd changed you're tactics at trial or if you'd had a different jury. That ain't going to make any difference to the CCRC. See, for them to be able to send a case for appeal, they need something new, some new evidence or legal argument that makes the case look really different and makes the conviction look wrong.

Godber: What kind of stuff is that then, Fletch?

Fletcher: There can be all kinds of reasons why the CCRC might send a case for appeal the main point is that it has to be something fresh, not just that same old stuff you've said before at trial or in your first appeal. You need to be able to give them something new to go on and they'll do the digging if they think there's anything worth digging for.

Godber: Right, I get it now. So how would I go about applying to the CCRC Fletch? Suppose I'd need a lawyer wouldn't I? What about all these legal aid cuts I keep hearing about whose going to pay for a lawyer to help me?

Fletcher: Don't panic. First off, start by ringing up or writing to them and asking for an application form their details are in Inside Time each month. Their application form is dead easy and it comes with a load of useful stuff about what they do and how it all works. Here, you could ask the lovely Denise to download the stuff from their website and bring it with her on that conjugal visit you're waiting for give you something to do together wouldn't it.

Anyway, you don't need to worry about having a lawyer. You can apply by yourself if you want to by just filling in their form. But it might be worth using a decent lawyer if you can find one. And if you do, they can still apply for legal aid for CCRC work.

Godber: Thanks Fletch, I reckon I am going to apply after all.

Fletcher: Yeah, you should, but remember Godber, don't try to pull the wool over their eyes. If they think they need to, they'll get hold of everything, the prosecution files, the police files and all sorts of things. They'll look at all your previous and everything. So, if you do apply, tell it straight don't leave stuff out because you think it makes you look bad. It might be important and anyway, they won't be very impressed if you hide something and they find out about it anyway.

Godber: Have you never thought of applying to the CCRC Fletch?

Fletcher: Well, as it happens, I did apply once.

Godber: You never said so before what happened?

Fletcher: If I'm honest Godber, it wasn't my finest hour. Not to put too fine a point on it, I was trying it on and they spotted it a mile off and turned me down waste of my time and theirs it was. Anyway, it sounds like you should apply though. If you're straight-up and you think you really were wrongly convicted, why not give it a try?

This article was written by Justin Hawkins, Head of Communication at the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) and was inspired by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais the writers of the award winning TV series Porridge

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This article appears under the following categories...
Miscarriages Of Justice
Unsafe Prosecutions

Summary of headlines for October 2013
Koestler Awards 2013
Lifers: struggling through the process
Managing risk
Knowing the system
Rehabilitation is not just a word
The power of the white shirt
Hope I die before I get old
Opportunities to change the Death Row regime
Current page: After lights out, in a cell at HMP Slade
Donít let the fascists break Britain
Month by Month October 2013
The CSC experiment
From over the wall
Justice at last
Losing a parent to prison
Prison Widow
Clarification regarding Fonesavvy
The legal aid issue rumbles on
Another blow by the donít care society
Can the acquitted ever return to a normal life
Total Recall
Abuse of Process

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