Criminal Cases Review Commission
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Commission statement on its review of the 1963 conviction of Dr Stephen Ward (deceased)

The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) has recently sent a document to the representatives of Dr Stephen Ward (deceased) explaining why it will not be referring for appeal Dr Ward’s 1963 conviction for living on the earnings of prostitution.

The proceedings at which Dr Ward was convicted arose out of the infamous Profumo Affair. Dr Ward was tried at the Old Bailey in July 1963 where he pleaded not guilty to two charges that he “knowingly lived wholly or in part on the earnings of prostitution”.

Shortly before the end of the trial Dr Ward took an overdose of prescribed sleeping pills and was absent from court when the jury returned a guilty verdict on 31st July 1963. He died in hospital three days later and therefore no sentence was handed down.

Representatives of Dr Ward, including a member of his family, made an application to the CCRC for a review of the conviction in December 2013.

The submissions raised in the application to the CCRC were published in a book about the case written by Mr Geoffrey Robertson QC who has been involved in the application.

The two principal submissions were:

  1. that Dr Ward’s trial was an abuse of process because it was instigated by the government and politically motivated.
  2. The Court of Appeal deliberately failed to disclose information that could have assisted Dr Ward at trial.

The CCRC has conducted a thorough investigation of these two submissions, along with a number of other matters raised by Dr Ward’s representatives, and has followed a number of other lines of enquiry of its own design.

The CCRC has wide-ranging statutory powers to obtain whatever material we think we need to review a case. During the investigations of this case the CCRC has had unimpeded access to material at all levels of the government and the criminal justice system. We have considered a wide range of sources including restricted case files retained by The National Archive, the Metropolitan Police, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Cabinet Office and Lord Denning’s Report on the Profumo Affair and files relating to it.

In relation to the submissions that the trial was politically motivated and therefore an abuse of process, and that the Court of Appeal concealed relevant information, the CCRC has concluded that, in spite of having gone to considerable lengths to access all surviving relevant material, the available records provide no evidence to support those claims.

Those submissions therefore do not give rise to a real possibility that the Court of Appeal would overturn Dr Ward’s conviction. In those circumstances the CCRC cannot refer the case on the basis of either submission.

During the course of the review, however, the CCRC did identify considerable merit in a number of other issues which might, arguably, provide grounds upon which we could refer the case for appeal.

The principal issues in that regard were the subsequent conviction for perjury of the prosecution witness Christine Keeler, and the possibility that contemporaneous media coverage of the case may have prejudiced Dr Ward’s trial.

The Commission agrees with Dr Ward’s representatives that there is considerable force in the argument that these matters could affect the safety of the conviction.

However, the particular circumstances of this case meant that the Commission needed to consider whether or not it ought to refer the conviction for appeal even if the statutory criteria for doing so could be met.

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