[JURIST] The British government Monday proposed closing off the possibility of overturning criminal convictions on legal technicalities where the guilt of accuseds is clear. In a new consultation paper [PDF text] the Home Secretary, the Lord Chancellor, and the Attorney General argue that if the Court of Appeal is convinced that the defendant in fact committed the offense as charged, in other words, that the conviction is "safe," it should not have jurisdiction to hear an appeal based on a perceived procedural technicality at the trial or arrest stages. The paper, now open for public comment through mid-December, argues that the reversal of such convictions damages public trust in the criminal justice system and takes the unnecessary risk that the convicted defendant may commit future crimes. Before outlining three specific legislative solutions, the paper concludes:
The dominant and settled legal interpretation of the statutory test in the Criminal Appeal Act 1968 [text] (as amended) appears to mean that the Court of Appeal may quash a conviction if they are dissatisfied with some aspect of procedure at the original trial, even if the person pleaded guilty or the Court are in no doubt that he committed the offence for which he was convicted. The Government believes that the law should not allow people to go free where they were convicted and the Court are satisfied they committed the offence…The Government believes that legislation is now needed to change the position because the approach of the Court of Appeal appears now to be settled. Moreover, it is right that Parliament should debate the desired effect of the test which it has itself provided (and amended).
The consultation paper is part of a comprehensive criminal justice system review [PDF text; summary], announced [JURIST report] by Home Secretary John Reid in June following a major policy address [JURIST report] by Prime Minister Tony Blair, aimed at putting the rights of victims before the rights of criminals.
The review was prompted by several recent controversial decisions [JURIST report] involving mandatory sentence reductions in some cases where defendants, including sexual predators, have received lighter minimums in exchange for guilty pleas. The Guardian has more.