Criminal Cases Review Commission
Council tax benefit fraud conviction referred to Crown Court
The Criminal Cases Review Commission (“CCRC”) has referred a conviction to the Crown Court after it decided that that there is a real possibility the prosecution was invalid as proceedings were not issued within the time limits.
In June 2018 Asma Bibi was found guilty at Warrington Magistrates Court of falsely obtaining council tax benefit. She was given a 12-month conditional discharge and ordered to pay £1000 costs. Following an unsuccessful appeal, the Crown Court resentenced her to a community order with a 28-day curfew and ordered her to pay £2,500 in costs.
Ms. Bibi’s application to the CCRC was received in May 2021.
After careful consideration, the CCRC has decided to refer Ms. Bibi’s conviction to Chester Crown Court, based on an argument that her original prosecution by Manchester City Council was ‘out of time’. The Council Tax Regulations state that proceedings must be started in the magistrates’ court (known as “laying an information”) either within 12 months of the completion of the alleged offence or within 3 months of evidence, sufficient in the opinion of the prosecutor (in this case Manchester City Council) to justify a prosecution for the offence, coming to the attention of the prosecutor.
According to the charge, the offence concluded on 6 September 2016, but the information was not laid until 15 November 2017, over 14 months later.
In the CCRC’s view there is a real possibility the Crown Court will find that the date on which there was sufficient knowledge by the prosecutor was either 17 March 2017 (when legal proceedings were recommended by the investigator) or 19 July 2017 (when the head of the Fraud Department authorised the case being passed to the Legal Department for prosecution). As both dates are over three months before the information was laid, the CCRC has decided that there is a real possibility that Ms. Bibi’s conviction will be overturned on appeal.
Notes for editors
1. The Criminal Cases Review Commission (“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. It is based in Birmingham and is funded by the Ministry of Justice.
2. There are currently 11 Commissioners who bring to the CCRC considerable experience from a wide variety of backgrounds. Commissioners are appointed by the Queen on the recommendation of the Prime Minister in accordance with the Office for the Commissioner for Public Appointments’ Code of Practice.
3. The CCRC usually receives around 1,400 applications for reviews (of convictions and/or sentences) each year. Since starting work in 1997, the CCRC has referred around 3% of applications to the appeal courts.
4. The CCRC considers whether, as a result of new evidence or argument, there is a real possibility that a conviction and/or sentence would not be upheld were a reference to be made. New evidence or argument is argument or evidence which has not been raised during the trial or on appeal. Applicants should usually have appealed first. A case can be referred in the absence of new evidence or argument or an earlier appeal only if there are “exceptional circumstances.”
5. If a case is referred, it is then for the appeal court to decide whether the conviction is unsafe or the sentence unfair.
More details about the role and work of the Criminal Cases Review Commission can be found at www.ccrc.gov.uk The CCRC can also be found on Twitter: @ccrcupdate and Instagram: the_ccrc
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