Miscarriages of justice not a thing of the past

Tom Griffin
4 August 2008

Tom Griffin (London, OK):  In today's Guardian, Duncan Campbell draws out some of the implications of Barry George's acquittal for the murder of Jill Dando, a charge for which he'd already served eight years in Prison:

It was widely assumed that after the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, the Bridgwater Three, Judith Ward and those many other high-profile cases that originated in the 1970s - when evidence rules were lax and there was still a culture of institutional corruption in some branches of the police service - the days of miscarriages of justice were over. Not so.

Campbell highlights the work of the Miscarriage of Justice Organisation - (MOJO) founded by Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six, which played a key role in helping George's sister, Michelle Diskin, campaign for his release.

It was experiences like Hill's own that led to the creation of the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), which reinvestigated George's case.

The CCRC took over a role that had previously been exercised by the Home Office. Another member of the Birmingham Six suggested to me a few years ago that this was in some ways a backward step, as it insulated politicians from the public pressure that they believed was crucial in such cases.

That may be unfair to the CCRC, but is nevertheless worth noting given the ease with which the Commission is apparently being starved of resources. Campbell points us to the despairing tone of the chairman's foreword in the latest CCRC annual report.

the Commissioners and I are particularly sad that the Treasury guidelines on pay have required us (because progression and annual increments have to be included) to offer a pay award his year which falls so far short of inflation that most are experiencing a real cut in pay. We recognise the need for pay restraint in the public sector but when two-thirds of our staff receive an award of only 1.2%, it s easy to see why we feel frustrated and the staff feel angry and dispirited.

Our pleasure at the impact of the new arrangements on waiting times is tempered by the knowledge that these gains which have been secured through so much effort are unlikely to be sustained if the proposed budget reductions of £100k in money terms for each of the next three years are confirmed. A reduction of his order, equivalent in real terms to a reduction amounting to around £300,000 per annum once inflation is taken into account, will mean that staff numbers will have to continue to fall. Indeed, our inability to fill vacancies in anticipation of these reductions – our complement of case review managers has dropped by almost 10% over the year – is already reversing these improvements. The one thing we are not prepared to do is to compromise the quality or intensity of our reviews. We have made significant economies and will continue to do so wherever possible, but there is now minimal scope for savings which will not damage the quality and efficiency of our work.

The impact of such cuts will keep innocent people in prison for longer than necessary, with the logical corollary that, as in the Jill Dando case, the guilty will go free.


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