Investigative journalists are no longer given adequate airtime or resources to dig up miscarriages of justice, according to a new publication by The Justice Gap.
The collection of essays by lawyers, journalists, academics and campaigners launched at an event at the College of Law in London on 29 March, asked exactly who is responsible for investigating miscarriages of justice. It explores the part played by pressure groups, academics, lawyers and the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) as well as the media.
Whereas television programmes highlighting the cases of the wrongly accused were “staple teatime fodder” 20-30 years ago, they have been pushed aside for reality TV and celebrity shows, according to one of the authors, Louise Shorter, a former producer on BBC’s Rough Justice, axed in 2007. She cites how Channel 4 chief executive Michael Jackson described the programme Trial & Error – dropped in 1999 – as “a bit 1980s“.
But the issues have not gone away, argued last night’s panel, which included leading human rights lawyer Gareth Pierce, Emily Bolton, project manager of the new Centre for Criminal Appeals and former director of Innocence Project New Orleans; David Jessel, investigative journalist (Rough Justice, Trial & Error) and former commissioner at the Criminal Cases Review Commission; Alastair MacGregor QC, deputy chair of the Criminal Cases Review Commission; and Campbell Malone, defence lawyer and chair of the Criminal Appeal Lawyers Association. It was chaired by Francis FitzGibbon QC, Doughty Street Chambers.
There was particular debate, reflected in the publication, around the role and activities of the Criminal Cases Review Commission, created in 1997 to independently investigate miscarriages of justice. Critics have raised concerns that the CCRC is “overly deferential to the Court of Appeal in deciding not to refer some cases with merit” (Naughton, 2009, cited in Poyser 2012), while others have defended the CCRC’s approach. As Jon Robins, editor of The Justice Gap, outlines in the introduction to the new collection of essays, both support and criticisms of the body are reflected in the publication.