Review of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission's website

Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission

The Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) is the independent public body in Scotland set up to review and investigate cases where it is alleged that a miscarriage of justice has occurred and to refer appropriate cases to the High Court for determination. How do I know this? Well, these are the very first words to appear on the site (at the top left in big writing). Not every visitor to a website knows who you are or what you do, so make sure that’s the first thing you tell people. This simple point is all too frequently overlooked. To give just two examples: CMS Cameron McKenna – great content, but who are you?; and the Society for Messengers-at-Arms and Sheriff Officers – what exactly do you do?

In fact, the first impressions of the site are very positive, all told. Prominently displayed on the front page is a Bobby (now replaced by WebXact AAA rating which indicates that it is a very, very accessible website. It uses access keys, which help further with accessibility, and navigation is both easy to use and well laid out. Full marks.

So much for the design and layout – is the content any good? You will be pleased to learn that it is. The site begins by offering an insight into the organisation itself, explaining its role and the legislation which created it (with a link to the statute). There is a comprehensive set of frequently asked questions and a description of the current internal policy review, together with an invitation to comment.

Thereafter, we arrive at the heart of the site – making an application. Here (as in several places elsewhere on the site) the application form is available to download in the near-ubiquitous Microsoft Word format. This section takes the reader through the review process in stages, from a clarification of what the SCCRC can and cannot do, through their decision making process, to the possibility of a legal challenge to their decisions. While thorough, the careful splitting of this section into smaller segments makes the whole easier to read, understand and digest.

What is surely one of the most comprehensive Freedom of Information Act publication schemes to be found in all cyberspace then precedes the section on referred cases. An overview of all 48 cases referred to the High Court is to be found here, together with a synopsis of each in turn and links to the court’s decision where available.

The next bit was (at least for someone not practising criminal law) the most interesting. The section headed “legal issues” covers some complex legal ground in a very straightforward way. It seems that the SCCRC have special statutory powers to petition for an opinion of the High Court and that they have not been shy about using that power. So, the site explains, a petition was brought regarding whether the Commission’s investigation powers included the ability to enquire into actings within the hallowed realms of the jury room, where juror misconduct is alleged. The answer to this (and to other interesting legal posers) is set out in summary, but in reasonably detailed summary at that. If the well worded pages of this section do not satisfy, however, the more diligent reader can link directly to the court’s judgment from the Scottish Court Service’s website. This section also tackles the thorny question of which laws apply to its work – the law at the date of conviction or at the date of review – before dealing deftly with issues of accessing paperwork and how to penetrate the twin potential barriers of legal professional privilege and Crown papers. It then concludes with some case studies (at least it will do as soon as any are added to the site) and case statistics which reveal that a total of 664 applications have (to March 2005) led to just 11 successful appeals.

The site’s collection of links is largely unremarkable. Having said that, the MOJO Scotland (Miscarriages Of Justice Organisation) website is surely worth at least a brief visit, if only for the retelling of some cases handled by the SCCRC from a “human interest” perspective. This approach makes for an engaging, and sometimes even gripping, read. “Latest news”, which has nothing more exciting than the latest annual report, concludes the site.

For anyone contemplating an application to the SCCRC or instructed in such matters, the website is not only an obvious place to start but an invaluable resource to access as well.

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