Criminal Cases Review Commission
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Closed cases under review by CCRC to identify new forensic opportunities as scientific techniques improve

People convicted of murder or rape who have had their applications to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) turned down could have their cases re-opened to allow new DNA testing, available as a result of developments in DNA techniques, to take place. 

The CCRC is analysing closed review cases involving murder or rape where the conviction was before the beginning of 2016, to pinpoint those where advances in DNA technology could now help identify an offender. 

The CCRC has identified almost 5,500 people who were convicted of murder or rape before 2016 and whose applications to the CCRC were turned down. 

Most of those cases will not move into a second phase of the project because they are ones where the identity of the offender is not challenged, including cases in which someone convicted of murder argues the killing was in self-defence, or rape cases in which the person convicted argues that sex was consensual. 

Initial work, which started in August 2023, suggests that about a quarter of cases will move to the second phase of the project, with potentially several dozen ultimately being subject to new testing, although this number will become clearer as the project progresses. 

It is not certain that this project will result in any applications which have previously been turned down being referred to the Court of Appeal, and convictions potentially quashed.  

The project will assess cases in three phases: phase one will pick out rape and murder cases which have come to the CCRC in which the identity of the offender is in dispute, phase two will determine in which of these there might be fresh forensic opportunities given development in DNA testing, and phase three will then re-open those cases to complete further analysis and testing.   

To complete phases two and three as quickly as possible, the CCRC is to request additional funding from the Ministry of Justice. 

A CCRC spokesperson yesterday said:

“The CCRC has been in operation for more than 27 years and scientific advances mean that there may be fresh forensic opportunities in cases that we last reviewed several years ago. 

“This trawl is a significant task and is the first undertaken by us on this scale. It could take considerable time, requiring us to have substantial additional resources so we can balance this important work with our existing case reviews. 

“Our purpose is to find, investigate and refer potential miscarriages of justice, so it is imperative that we take advantage of opportunities offered by scientific developments to do that.”  

Notes to Editors: 

  1. In July 2014, DNA laboratories in the UK moved to using a technique called DNA-17.
  2. DNA-17 is arguably more sensitive than older types of DNA profiling. Old samples, degraded samples or samples which contain only a very small amount of cellular material are more likely to yield useful results using this testing method.
  3. In 2023, 20% of CCRC references were the result of reviews initiated by the CCRC.
  4. The CCRC is an independent body set up under the Criminal Appeal Act 1995. It is responsible for independently reviewing suspected and alleged miscarriages of criminal justice in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and is funded by the Ministry of Justice.     
  5. There are currently 10 Commissioners who bring to the CCRC considerable experience from a wide variety of backgrounds. Commissioners are appointed by the monarch on the recommendation of the Prime Minister in accordance with the Office for the Commissioner for Public Appointments’ Code of Practice.  The Chairman, who is also a Commissioner, is not involved in the casework decision-making process.  
  6. The CCRC receives around 1,600 applications for reviews (convictions and/or sentences) each year. Since starting work in 1997, the CCRC has referred around 3% of applications to the appeal courts.     
  7. The CCRC considers whether, as a result of new information or a new argument on a point of law, there is a real possibility that the sentence would not be upheld were a reference to be made. New information or argument on a point of law is argument or information which has not been raised during the original sentence hearing or on appeal.  Applicants should usually have appealed first. A sentence can be referred in the absence of an earlier appeal only if there are “exceptional circumstances”.     
  8. If a case is referred, it is then for the appeal court to decide whether the conviction is unsafe or the sentence is unfair.     
  9. More details about the role and work of the Criminal Cases Review Commission can be found at The CCRC can be found on Twitter @ccrcupdate.  


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