Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum submitted by the Criminal Cases Review Commission


  The Commission was established formally on 1 January 1997, under the Criminal Appeal Act 1995. From 31 March 1997, it assumed the responsibilities previously exercised by the Home Office and the Northern Ireland Office for reviewing suspected miscarriages of criminal justice, and has therefore been carrying out casework for just five years.

  During that period, the Commission has developed from start-up to its current operating mode, in which its basic processes have been clearly defined and tested. They are now subject to continuous improvement, to enhance their effectiveness, efficiency and economy, rather than to radical change.

  From the outset, the Commission has communicated to its stakeholders its openness and accessibility, and its intention to make its processes transparent. Early stakeholder concerns regarding the Commission's likely independence, and ability to investigate miscarriages of justice thoroughly, have been allayed by experience of its casework.

  The Commission's initial scale of operation was inadequate to cope with the case intake that materialised, and a very substantial accumulation of cases awaiting review rapidly built up. The Commission began its casework in April 1997 with 10 Case Review Managers (CRMs) in post. Projections made in February 1998 suggested that 50 would be needed for a few years to minimise the case accumulation.

  The Chairman and Chief Executive of the Commission appeared before the Home Affairs Committee in October 1997, December 1998 and April 2000. Members of the Committee visited the Commission in February 1999, and the Committee published a report on the Commission in March 1999. The Government responded supportively in June 1999.

  During the two years since the Commission's last appearance before the Committee, its complement of CRMs has built up to 50 and there has been a dramatic reduction in the case accumulation. The five-year point reached on 31 March 2002 was a watershed. Between then and 31 March 2005, the Commission will be engaged in the difficult and delicate managerial process of reducing its complement of CRMs to about 30 by natural turnover, while minimising the case accumulation. The Commission will then finally be in a relatively steady state.

  There are areas of the Commission's activities that will require progressively greater effort: First, the Commission must allocate more CRM effort to analysing its rapidly growing case database. That will not only speed up its own casework, by facilitating reference to legal and investigative issues that have already been encountered, but also enable it to formulate sound advice to other stakeholders and agencies within the criminal justice system that might minimise the incidence of miscarriages of justice.

  Secondly, the Commission must soon undertake the substantial task of reviewing case files that have been stored for five years following completion of reviews. CRM time will be required to examine them, to determine what must be kept and what must be discarded, to satisfy privacy and Public Records requirements, and to distil valuable case knowledge and experience.

  Thirdly, the recent Auld Report may materially affect the number of cases that the Commission will be directed to investigate by the Court of Appeal, if its recommendation that the Court's power to do so is extended to cases for which leave to appeal is being considered.


1.1  Transfers

  Around 31 March 1997, the Commission received 279 cases transferred from the Home Office and the Northern Ireland Office (see Table 1). These contained many old and difficult cases, eg Bentley, Mattan and Hanratty, and it is only in the 2001-02 financial year that case reviews of the last of the transfers have been completed.

1.2  New Cases

  As will be seen from Table 1, there was an initial surge of cases in 1997-98 and 1998-99, but the annual intake is now roughly 800. Although it is too early to say whether or not the rise from 777 to 834 over the last three years is a trend, or simply a statistical fluctuation, two factors may be operating in favour of a trend: first, growing awareness of the Commission and its casework, and secondly, some prospective applicants may previously have been discouraged from applying because of the very substantial case accumulation and corresponding delays.

Table 1: Case Intake
TransfersNew Cases Cases (cumulative)
31 March 1997279 279
1997-981,103 1,382
1998-991,037 2,419
1999-2000777 3,196
2000-01800 3,996
2001-02834 4,830

  Figure 1 shows that the monthly case intake is erratic, varying between 49 and 88 over the 1999-2002 period, while the average over a twelve-month period varies only slowly. The cumulative case intake (including transfers) is indicated in Figure 2.


  The Commission's capacity to review cases depends critically on its complement of CRMs. During the 1997-98 financial year, Commission Members had time available to carry out a considerable number of case reviews. Progressively, however, they became increasingly occupied with their mentoring roles in relation to the rapidly growing complement of CRMs, and with decision-making on individual cases. Today, the vast majority of case reviews are carried out by CRMs.

  The evolution of the Commission's complement of CRMs is indicated in Table 2 and Figure 3. Although projections made in February 1998 suggested that 50 CRMs would be needed for a few years, to minimise the case accumulation, that complement was not reached until the 2001-02 financial year. The hope shared by the Commission and the Home Office that minimisation of the case accumulation could be achieved by 31 March 2004 has consequently to be modified to 31 March 2005.

Table 2: Number of CRMs in Post
DateCRMs in Post Arrivals during the yearDepartures during the year
31 March 1997915 0
31 March 1998248 3
31 March 19992912 5
31 March 20003617 6
31 March 2001479 6
31 March 200250

  Home Office funding for 2001-02 would have allowed the Commission to build up towards a complement of 60 CRMs. In the event, several considerations contributed to limiting the complement to 50. The first was that CRM candidates were found to be in too short supply to increase the number in post rapidly. This led to consideration of the possibility of extending the period for minimising the case accumulation to 31 March 2005. The balance was tipped by a request from the Home Office, in October 2001, for help in mitigating unexpected financial pressures to which it was subject. The outcome was that the Commission absorbed a reduction of 8% in its Grant-in-Aid for 2001-02.

  It should be said, however, that there were other persuasive considerations in limiting the complement to 50 CRMs. The Commission would have needed additional accommodation temporarily, and that was unfortunately no longer available in Alpha Tower. Furthermore, so much of the case accumulation had already been cleared by 31 March 2001 that a complement of CRMs greater than 50 might not have subsequently diminished by natural turnover in line with the diminishing case accumulation. We shall return to this point in Section 5.


3.1  The Case Review Process

  Case review proceeds by the series of Stages shown schematically in Figure 4. Stage 0 deals with initial enquiries and communications, and constitutes case files that are treated as applications. Stage 1 decides whether or not a case is eligible for review. Stage 2 Screen has been in operation since May 1999 and deals with cases that offer little or no new evidence or argument. Stage 2 deals with cases that require more substantial effort and extensive investigations. Stage 3 deals with cases for which an external Investigating Officer is required.


  Case completions in the 2001-02 financial year are shown for each Stage in Figure 4 and Table 3, and totalled 1,201, including 37 cases referred to the appropriate courts of appeal. Annual statistics for earlier years are provided in Table 3.

Table 3: Case Completions and Cases in Progress

Case Intake Case CompletionsCases in Trays Cases under Review
31 March 1997   279
1997-981,103   310    855217
1998-991,037   492 1,177440
1999-2000   7771,015    914465
2000-01   8001,110    577492
2001-02   8341,201    338364

  Cumulative monthly case completions are plotted in Figure 1 for comparison with the cumulative monthly case intake. Completions lagged further and further behind intake until mid-1999, when the case accumulation reached its maximum. Thereafter, a combination of the Commission's developing case review processes and experience, and the growing complement of CRMs began to reduce the total number of cases in progress. The effect is shown strikingly in Figure 4R, which indicates separately the numbers of cases in Trays and under review.

3.3  Referrals

  One criterion of the effectiveness of the Commission's case review process is the outcome at the appropriate court of appeal. Table 4 indicates the number of referrals made by the Commission each year since its inception, and the outcomes of those appeals that have been heard.

  To 31 March 2002, 161 cases had been referred (out of 4,128 case completions). Of those, 68 were waiting to be heard; 64(69%) had been successful at appeal, and in 29(31%) the conviction or sentence had been upheld. In one case, the conviction was quashed at the Court of Appeal, but subsequently upheld by the House of Lords. In another, the conviction was upheld by the Court of Appeal, but quashed by the House of Lords.

Table 4: Case Referrals

  Further criteria of the effectiveness of the Commission's case review process are the success rate of reapplications to the Commission and the outcomes of judicial reviews of the Commission's decisions.

  Reapplications: Only a few per cent of cases in which the Commission's decision was not to refer return as reapplications. Of these, relatively few offer arguments and/or evidence not previously considered at trial, at appeal or by the Commission. Their success rate is correspondingly low: only three reapplications have been referred during 2000-02.

  Judicial Reviews: Over the period 1997-2002, there have been seven judicial reviews of decisions by the Commission: four have been decided in favour of the Commission by the Administrative Court; one was withdrawn by the applicant, one was suspended because the applicant absconded, and one was settled by agreement (the conviction was subsequently referred, and was upheld at the Court of Appeal).


  The five-year point reached on 31 March 2002 was a watershed in the Commission's development. Between then and 31 March 2005, the Commission will be engaged in the difficult and delicate managerial process of reducing its complement of CRMs from a peak of 50 to a relatively steady state of about 30, by natural turnover, while minimising the case accumulation.

  To manage this transition to the steady state, assumptions are required concerning the annual case intake, and the numbers of Cases in Trays and Cases under Review at each Stage when the case accumulation has been minimised. These assumptions determine how many CRMs will be required in the steady state, and how much additional CRM effort will be required between 31 March 2002 and 31 March 2005 to minimise the case accumulation.

4.1  CRMs Required

  To avoid presenting unnecessarily complicated details of our approximate casework projections for 2002-05, we shall simply say that projections founded on current annual case intake and CRM productivity suggest that about 30 CRMs will be required to cope with casework in the steady state. Furthermore, the roughly linear reduction in the complement of CRMs over the three-year period shown in Figure 5 should suffice to minimise the case accumulation by 31 March 2005.

  Adjustments to the Commission's complement of CRMs may be required in the light of experience over the three-year period, and it should be remembered that additional CRM effort will be required for the tasks mentioned in the Chairman's Introduction.

4.2  Casework Projections for 2002-03

  The way in which casework projections can be made, taking account of the reduction in CRMs indicated in Figure 5, will be illustrated for the 2002-03 financial year. Table 5(a) shows the casework completed at each Stage during the 2001-02 financial year, and the changes in Cases in Progress. Of particular importance are the percentages of cases that progress from each Stage to the next. The final column on the right of Table 5 shows the Group Caseworker Effort (GCW) expended at each Stage during the year, taking account of any change in the number of cases under review by assuming that such cases are, on average, half-completed.

  Figure 5(b) assumes the same annual intake, and percentages of cases progressing from each Stage to the next, and allocates the GCWs so as to reduce the Cases in Progress optimally. To do so, it is assumed that the case accumulation at Stage 1 has already been minimised; that the accumulation at Stage 2 Screen can still be reduced somewhat, and that six CRMs can be transferred from Stage 2 Screen to Stages 2-3, effective 31 March 2002.

Table 5: Casework Projections from 31 March 2002 Statistics
  (a)  31 March 2001 to 31 March 2002 (actual)

  The salient features of Table 5(b) are that the Commission should complete about 1,000 cases in 2002-03, compared with 1,201 in 2001-02. The reduction is primarily due to the close approach to minimisation of the case accumulation at Stage 2 Screen that had been achieved by 31 March 2002: consequently, 516 (= 503+13) completions at Stage 2 Screen are projected in 2002-03, compared with 733 (= 714+19) completions in 2001-02.

  Case completions at Stages 2-3 are projected to be about 228 in 2002-03, compared with 196 in 2001-02. The GCW is not significantly greater than in 2001-02, after the transfer of six CRMs from Stage 2 Screen at 31 March 2002 has been offset by eight (projected) CRM departures during 2002-03, so this completion rate implies a significant increase in productivity. If achieved, it will halve the waiting time in Tray 2.

4.3  Casework projections for 2003-05

  Figures 5(c) and (d) show analogous projections to 31 March 2005.

  (c)  31 March 2003 to 31 March 2004 (projections)


  By 31 March 2002, the Commission had reached the end of its growth phase, during which it had appointed a maximum complement of 50 enthusiastic, highly competent CRMs, mainly at early stages of their careers and correspondingly ambitious. It is now in a transitional phase, characterised by matched reductions in the case accumulation and its complement of CRMs. This phase must be managed so as to approach a steady state in which the case accumulation is minimised and the complement of CRMs is stabilised by 31 March 2005. Above all, the Commission must strive to sustain its dynamism and collegial ethos through this difficult period. The steady state poses longer-term problems. In particular, a level of CRM turnover must be sustained that will be sufficient to preserve enthusiasm and vitality, and to avoid stagnation.

  Organisational design: In April 1996, the Chairman was charged with setting up a new body for the effective review of suspected miscarriages of justice. The initial design of the Commission was determined by consideration of the two organisational dimensions indicated in Figure 6. The vertical dimension describes the relations of staff of all kinds to each other. The horizontal dimension describes the relation of individual staff to the organisation.

  A collegial organisation is characterised by a high degree of empowerment of its staff; confidence is placed in them to perform their allotted tasks; mutual support and trust are fostered; competition among staff is minimised, and a friendly atmosphere is engendered. It is particularly suited to organisations such as the Commission, that consist of specialised professionals whose relative and absolute productivities are not readily quantified. Correspondingly, personal development reviews will tend to concentrate on how to perform better, particularly through advice and training, rather than on reaching specified productivity levels.

  In contrast, a hierarchical organisation is characterised by a high degree of command and control; fine gradations in power and authority, related to rank and salaries; competition among staff to achieve these gradations; close supervision of performance and productivity, and a more tense atmosphere. It is best suited to organisations in which there are sharp stratifications of expertise, experience and education, and where rapid coordination of effort by command may be necessary.

  The Commission is an unusually collegial organisation. It owes that primarily to its simply defined mission and objectives, with which its highly professional staff can readily identify, and its small size. Its essential monitoring, and improvement of individual performance and productivity, are unobtrusive processes mediated by such provisions as separation of case decision-making from case review, continuous advice to CRMs on case review from Commission Members and others, and periodic personal development reviews.

  CRM appointments: When the Commission's case accumulation has been minimised, it will be a substantially smaller organisation than at 31 March 2002. This consideration influenced the initial organisational design and the Chairman's perspective on CRM appointments. The Commission simply cannot offer the opportunities for job enrichment, internal advancement, and transitions to other roles and activities that would sustain a long-term career. CRMs have therefore been sought who would value a Commission post as a personal development opportunity, rather than as a long-term career, and would find acceptable a time horizon of a three-year contract renewable once.

  To such CRMs, the Commission offers the largest concentration in the UK of professionals working in the specialised area of miscarriages of criminal justice. Its induction and training programme should enable them to move speedily up the learning curve, to reach high productivity after two to three years. Any service thereafter should widen their casework experience, but should be viewed primarily as a period of consolidation during which to manage the transition to similarly stimulating (and probably more financially rewarding) post-Commission employment.

  The dashed line in Figure 1 illustrates the danger of evolution towards a hierarchical model, if modifications of the organisational design are made progressively to satisfy the `career' aspirations of long-service CRMs in an ageing Commission. It is the Chairman's view, at least, that whether or not the Commission can continue as the bright star in the north-east quadrant of Figure 6 that it undoubtedly is today, depends crucially on sustaining a level of CRM turnover of 15-20% per year, to provide adequate opportunities for recruitment.

  It is tempting to argue that productivity will increase with length of service, but it is not clear that this increase will be significant after the first few years in post. There is the counterbalancing danger that individual enthusiasm will be blunted, and reluctance to adopt new practices will grow, as the work becomes progressively more routine, with inevitable deleterious effects on the Commission's ethos. The percentage of cases referred is small, and the Home Affairs Committee has questioned whether or not a `culture of disbelief' might develop.

  From the point of view of the wider criminal justice system, the Commission is a unique source of bright, ambitious recruits, highly trained in the discipline of reviewing suspected miscarriages of justice. It is to the benefit of the system that the flow from the Commission should not diminish to a trickle.

CRM turnover:

  Table 2 indicates that the Commission has appointed 70 CRMs, of whom 50 were in post at 31 March 2002. It is possible to analyse the lengths of service of those who are in post and those who have left, and to project forward CRM turnover to 31 March 2005. The projections are shown in Figure 7, together with the mean service of those still in post measured in working days (one calendar year = 250 working days).

  It seems likely that the reduction from 50 CRMs at 31 March 2002 (=1,250 working days since 31 March 1997) to about 30 CRMs at 31 March 2005 (=2,000 working days) will occur by natural turnover, but with little or no opportunity for recruitment of new CRMs before that date. Correspondingly, the mean time in service of those in post will rise from about 600 working days to 1,400.

  The contractual arrangements for CRMs mentioned above (of a three-year contract renewable once) would have ensured about 14 departures during the 2002-05 period. The Employment Relations Act 1999 would, however, allow any member of staff whose employment had been terminated by the Commission at the end of a fixed term contract to bring proceedings for unfair dismissal. The Commission continues to use fixed-term employment contracts to express its culture, management objectives and expectations of the individual, but it will be several years before it is clear how closely CRM turnover matches these terms.

Commission Members and Other Staff:

  The Criminal Appeal Act 1995 provides that no Commission Member shall serve continuously for more than 10 years. In 1997, six Members and the Chairman were appointed for five-year terms, and seven Members were appointed for three-year terms. Those seven were obliged to compete in open competition for reappointment, and were all successful, though one left a year later. One other Member joined the Commission in July 2000. Of those appointed for five-year terms, two left in 2001 and five were renewed. The current position is that three new Members are expected to join the Commission within the next few months; two Members and the Chairman reach the ends of their terms of appointment in the summer of 2003.

  The founding Chief Executive left in October 2000. Her successor, Jacky Courtney, joined the Commission in January 2002, and will be present at the meeting of the Home Affairs Committee on 30 April 2002.

April 2002

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 13 March 2003