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If you have been wrongly convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for a serious crime, you should demand help in order to overturn your conviction. You don't need to have educational qualifications, or to know about the law, or to write letters that have perfect spelling or grammar, in order to contest your conviction: but you do need to be very determined, and to know where to get help, how to persuade people outside prison to help you, and to check that the help you are getting is being given you in the best possible way. This leaflet attempts to give you some initial leads and guidance in making best use of the help that is available.
There are circumstances in which you may be innocent, but can do nothing to overturn your conviction. The quickest way of getting out of prison may be to do whatever is necessary to obtain parole (or release on licence for those with life sentences). We wouldn't want to give prisoners false hopes that justice will always triumph and the truth will come out in the end. But it is possible to obtain release on parole without admitting guilt. What parole boards should be concerned with is whether you are likely to commit crimes in future - not whether you express remorse for something you didn't do.
Although it is very hard to overturn a wrongful conviction, it is not impossible. Over the last few years the list of framed prisoners released after having their convictions quashed is impressive: the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four, Judith Ward, the Tottenham Three, Mike Royle and Robert Hall, the Cardiff Three, Steve Davis, Adrian Maher, Kevin Callan, the Bridgewater Four and more besides. Many of these cases looked hopeless at first. CONVICTION supported many of them through to successful appeals. Successful campaigns such as those of the Birmingham Six and Tottenham Three have involved families and friends of the prisoners, who managed to link up with other sympathisers, and their combined efforts led to the prisoners' release. So encourage your relatives to join your fight.
ACTION AGAINST INJUSTICE PO Box 858, London E9 5HU Supports and co-ordinates campaigns against injustice. JUSTICE 59 Carter Lane,London EC4V 5AQ tel. 0171 329 5100 / fax 0171 329 5055 - Will only consider your case once all routine appeals have been exhausted. They may be slow, but if they take on your case they are extremely thorough and they are well respected, so your chance of success is good. They have support from solicitors and other professionals. Publish a guide to appeals - free to prisoners whos send 6" x 9" addressed envelope. with 31p stamp, 2.50 pounds to others
INNOCENT Dept 54, 255, Wilmslow Road, Manchester M14 5LW
Campaign of families and friends of framed prisoners from the Greater Manchester area. Works closely with CONVICTION.
CONVICTION, PO Box 522, Sheffield S1 3FF : Supports prisoners who are fighting their convictions. Because it is a small voluntary organisation, it restricts the cases it takes on to those who have long sentences (6 years or more), and whom it may be able to help. Can only take cases originating in Manchester or the East Midlands.
LIBERTY 21 Tabard Street, London SE1 4LA
0171 403 3888
Supports only a very limited number of test cases, but can pass cases on to members of their network of sympathetic solicitors.
Liberty may have a local branch in your home town or where you are in prison who will take up your case. There is a strong branch covering the West Midlands area, who helped to uncover police malpractice there, so if you are from the West Midlands write to Anita Richards, 27 Montague Road, Birmingham B21 9DF; otherwise, write to Liberty head office.
RELEASE 388 Old Street, London EC1V 9LT
0171 729 9904 10am-6pm
0171 603 8654 overnight help
0171 729 5255 admin.
Campaigns on drug law reform and advises on drug-related matters (such as street values).
Members of Parliament House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA Some of them can be helpful and some will support campaigns. Use them to extract responses from the Home Office (see p.4).
PRISON REFORM TRUST 15 Northburgh Street, London EC1V 0AH 0171 251 5070 Ask them to send you their Information Pack, free to prisoners. Contains factsheets including prisoners "rights" (not many) and lists of organisations that help prisoners and their families.
NATIONAL PRISONERS' MOVEMENT BM PROP London WC1N 3XX
0181 542 3744
PRISON WATCH 24 Rochester Close, Derby DE24 0HS
0117 949 2883 / 01332 756 158 fax 01332 753515
A network of people concerned about prison conditions and how they affect prisoners and families. They support, advise and campaign. They "know how to get answers and results and where to get support, publicity and legal assistance" concerning prison problems (not fighting wrongful convictions).
HOWARD LEAGUE FOR PENAL REFORM 708 Holloway Road, London N19 3NL
0171 281 7722
Produces a very useful information pack (including further list of support organisations), free to families of prisoners (39 pounds to anyone else).
AFTERMATH PO box 414, Sheffield S1 3UP 0114 232 6166
Helps families and partners of offenders, especially of murderers and sex offenders. Groups in other areas.
PRISONERS' ADVICE SERVICE, Unit 305, Hatton Square, 16/16a Baldwins Gardens, London EC1N 7RJ. Provides prisoners with information and advice about their rights and takes up prisoners' complaints about their treatment within the prison system.
NACRO 169 Clapham Road, London SW9 0PU
0171 582 6500
Administers a fund to help prisoners' families suffering hardship
WOMEN PRISONERS' RESOURCE CENTRE
1 Thorpe Close, Ladbroke Grove, London W10 5XL
0181 986 3121
567a Barlow Moor road, Manchester M21 2AE 0161 8619757
Part of NACRO.
NAPO (National Association of Probation Officers), 3/4 Chivalry Road, London SW111HT
0171 223 4887 -
campaigns against wrongful conviction in general
TERRY O'HALLORAN MEMORIAL FUND BCM 5960, London WC1N 3XX - Set up by the Revolutionary Communist Group and the National Union of Journalists following the death of communist journalist Terry O'Halloran, who campaigned for prisoners' rights. Provides books and magazines for prisoners.
ANARCHIST BLACK CROSS (ABC)
London ABC, 121 Railton Road, London SE24 0LR
0171 274 6655
Supports "class struggle" ie working class prisoners. Publishes excellent paper Taking Liberties, free to prisoners on request. Useful leaflet on solicitors available.
Complaints Generally complaints are investigated by the colleagues of the people you're complaining about (police investigate the police, lawyers investigate lawyers), so don't expect much of these organisations. You may want to complain just to show that you are following up every possibility, and registering the fact that you're not satisfied. But remember, you may be showing the other side your case when it might be better kept for a battle in court - such as a civil action against police or lawyers who have failed you.
Police Complaints Authority (PCA] 10 Great George Street, London SW1P 3AE
071 273 6450
(or write to the Chief Constable of the force concerned) Nearly everyone fighting their case complains, and it doesn't seem to bother the officers concerned very much. Remember that a copy of your letter of complaint will be sent at once to the officer(s) you are complaining about, so just make it an outline of the main points - don't give the game away all at once! You will be able to fill in the details when investigating officers interview you. Expect a whitewash: your complaint will probably be used in order to show that nothing was wrong. Generally you won't be told any detail of what was found out - just the results. Ask to have a copy of your interview record before the interview starts - you are unlikely to be given one otherwise. There is a possibility of benefiting from a complaint if it is so serious that an outside force has to be brought in. They may turn up documents which were withheld during the preparation of your case. But don't expect too much. If they do turn up anything which might support your case, you may have to fight to get hold of it. You need a really determined lawyer to do this for you.
Solicitors Complaints Bureau Portland House, Stag Place, London SW1E 5BL
0171 834 2288
Office for the Supervision of Solicitors, Victoria Court, 8 Dormer Place, Leamington Spa, Warwickshire CV32 5AE
Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, 227/228 The Strand, London WC2A 1BA
if you think your solicitor has been guilty of serious and unprofessional misconduct.
General Council of the Bar, Professional Conduct Committee, 2/3 Cursitor Street, London EC4A 1NE
0171 440 4000
Lawyers who are incompetent or lazy or worse - in collusion with the other side - almost always get away with it. Don't let them. If you did not get a fair trial because your case was not properly presented, say so clearly.
Legal Services Ombudsman, 22 Oxford Court, Oxford Street, Manchester M2 3WQ
061 236 9532
Investigates complaints about barristers and solicitors if the above two organisations have failed to give satisfaction. Apply within three months of receiving a decision from either of them.
Publicity may be the factor that makes lawyers and courts take your case seriously - although they won't admit it. It may help to bring information to light, such as cases having important elements in common with yours. Take care to get the right publicity, and plenty of it. Do you think the Guildford Four and Birmingham Six would be free now, if it weren't for the publicity and the campaigns that generated it?
Whatever you send out to the media or to campaigning organisations, assume they know nothing at all about you or your case, and include all basic information, including (if possible):
Most important, the letter you send out should summarise your case in such a way that the interest of the reader is caught: what happened (briefly); the essential points of the prosecution case; the basis of your defence; and what went wrong for you. Tell your readers why they should be concerned about you; how they can help you - what help you need (if you know). Remember: reporters and campaigning organisations are overloaded with work - send out a brief, clear letter which makes it easy for them to respond to you and deprives of them any excuse to put it to one side: grab their attention! Do not send large quantites of paperwork relating to your cas until it's asked for.
Local papers will take an interest and print something about you, but it may not be favourable (they depend on the police for much of their news, and won't want to offend them). Look at what they've printed in the past, and assess which reporters are likely to be sympathetic - then address your letters to them. The same applies to local radio and tv. Get friends and relatives to suss them out and talk to them.
The GUARDIAN 119 Farringdon Road EC1 3ER - Duncan Campbell has covered miscarriage-of-justice cases extensively and sympathetically.
The INDEPENDENT 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB - Heather Mills and Adam Sage cover miscarriage-of-justice cases.
TIME OUT Tower House, Southampton Street, London WC2 - for London cases - reporter: Dennis Campbell
YORKSHIRE POST Wellington Street, Leeds LS1 1RF 0532 432701 Reporter: Olwen Dudgeon
CARIBBEAN TIMES / ASIAN TIMES 139-149 Fonthill Road, London N4 3HF - Good coverage of cases for prisoners describing themselves as black British, Afro-Caribbean or Asian.
The VOICE, Nu Vox House, 370 Coldharbour Lane, London SW9 8PL WEEKLY JOURNAL (same address) 071 738 5500
Cover same range of cases as Caribbean Times IRISH IN BRITAIN NEWS, Canal House,Catherine Wheel Road, Brentford, Middlesex TW8 8BD
The IRISH WORLD 307a High Road, London NW10 2JR
The IRISH POST Uxbridge House,464 Uxbridge Road, Hayes, Mddx. UB1 OSP tel. 0181 561 0059
Possible coverage of cases for prisoners describing themselves as Irish or second-generation Irish
FIGHT RACISM! FIGHT IMPERIALISM! BCM 5960, London WC1N 3XX The RCG paper: reporter Nicki Jameson covers prisoners' struggles in each issue, and some cases of fitting up. Sent free to prisoners, 5 pounds for 6 issues to others.
The LAW PO Box 3878, London SW12 9ZE - radical paper for lawyers and others, covers miscarriage of justice cases; quarterly, 4 pounds annual subscription. TRIAL & ERROR (Steve Haywood, producer), Just Television, 11-15 Emerald Street, London WC1N 3QL
0171 404 6744 /fax 0171 242 3346
ROUGH JUSTICE (Ed Braman, producer), room 1072, Kensington House, Richmond Way, Shepherds Bush, W14 0AX
081 895 6799
For both programmes: the programme makers do not want to repeat evidence that has been heard before: they want the opportunity to reinvestigate cases and turn up new evidence themselves. If they research a case they will do so very thoroughly, following up leads that no one has taken the trouble to follow before. If you think your case would be suitable, contact them directly: they will be sympathetic and look into all cases (so please only contact them if your cases is genuine - they are not interested in cases based on legal technicalities, and cases that are not genuine make it less possible for them to help those that deserve their help).
WORLD IN ACTION Granada TV Centre, Manchester M60 9EA after conviction - Appeals
We feel it is necessary to offer information and advice about appeals, because it is hard to find. Research has shown that very few solicitors know much about the appeals process. As a wrongly convicted prisoner, you should check that your appeal is progressing as it should. Your family and supporters should know enough about the process and the time limits, so that they can check that your lawyers are doing what they should. The booklet, A Guide to Proceedings in the Court of Appeal Criminal Division is available but hard to come by.
Everyone who is convicted is entitled to advice on appeal, and if you had legal aid for your trial, the advice will be covered by legal aid (but legal aid will not cover a second opinion, if you don't agree with what your trial counsel says). Immediately after your trial, both your solicitor and your barrister (counsel) should see you and the barrister should tell you whether s/he thinks you have reasonable grounds for appeal. If grounds exist, counsel's advice and draft grounds should be with your solicitor within 14 days of your conviction. Your solicitor should pass them on to you within 21 days of your conviction, and they should be with the Crown Court in 28 days. It is the duty of solicitors to keep the appellant informed of the progress of his case at all stages, the booklet says. If your lawyers don't keep within the time limit, then they will have to ask for an extension of time. The court of Appeal seems reasonable about this, but any delay will add to the very long time it takes for an appeal to be heard. The grounds of appeal must be clear and precise. An adverse advice should never be sent to the court, the booklet says - but we've known lawyers do this. Some trial lawyers just don't want the bother of an appeal. Keep an eye on what they're doing. Whenever a lawyer says (as they often do) something like "Don't worry, leave it to me," then that's precisely the moment at which you should start worrying and keeping a careful watch on what s/he's doing.
All appeals are heard at the Royal Courts of Justice in The Strand, London WC2A 2LL. They are open to the public. Everything concerning appeals is dealt with there. Phone 0171 936 6517 to find out what's happening, quoting the appeal number if you know it. Staff there are helpful and tell you the dates of hearings etc.
When the Registrar of criminal appeals receives the grounds of appeal, s/he will decide on what ranscripts of what was said at the trial should be ordered. Counsel can ask for transcripts, and you should make sure that all necessary transcripts are positively requested. If they are not ordered by the court and you need them in future, you may have to pay for them yourself - they can cost 3 pounds or more per day of a trial, so you could be having to raise 1000s later if they're not obtained in advance of your appeal. Once the transcripts have been obtained, counsel will need to "perfect" the grounds of appeal in the light of what the transcripts actually say.
Leave to appeal is decided initially by a single judge, who just looks at the papers submitted by counsel. The single judge's decisions are usually negative and designed to put appellants off, so don't be discouraged if you get a refusal of leave to appeal. Recently Kevin Callan was refused leave to appeal by the single judge - but when it came to the appeal itself, his case was so strong that the crown didn't offer any evidence. If leave is refused at this stage, your application can nevertheless go on to be heard by the full court of three judges. Your application must be renewed within 14 days of the refusal by the single judge (or else you'll have to be providing reasons why they should give you an extension of time). Legal aid can cover a revised application fo leave to appeal, if it is prepared by your trial barrister. Legal aid will not cover advice on appeal from a different barrister, nor will it cover the cost of having a barrister represent you before the full court (the 3 judges), once leave to appeal has been refused by the single judge. Legal aid will only come available again if leave to appeal is granted.
You will also be warned that if the judges think that your application is a frivolous one, they can punish you by making your sentence count from the date when they hear the application. Often lawyers stress this - trying to put you off. In practice, if your case is genuine, and especially if it is supported by your counsel, then the court is unlikely to punish you. So if you have a reasonable case, press on. You can apply directly to the court yourself, but if the court decides to hear your application, it will appoint a barrister to speak for you. The leave to appeal hearing may happen in your absence, and although the court may consider all the documents submitted and may hear counsel's arguments, this is not the appeal itself. Confusingly, sometimes a leave-to-appeal hearing can turn into a full appeal on the spot, but only if the prisoner is present.
The hearing decides on what can be financed by legal aid: junior counsel only, or senior counsel (a QC) if there are complex arguments to be put forward, a solicitor if more investigative work needs to be done (and costs of investigation, if necessary), and more transcripts from the trial. It is very important that your barrister asks for everything necessary: if there are difficult points of law, you should have a QC; if you have fresh evidence available, your solicitor will need to prepare it and commission work from investigators and experts etc. All these things cost a lot, and wrongly-convicted people and their families should not have to pay to put right the mistakes of an incompetent system. Following the passing of the Criminal Appeal Act 1995, the Court of Appeal seems to have become more reasonable about what "fresh evidence" can include. As well as evidence that has come to light since the end of your trial, the appeal judges seem willing to admit evidence that was available at the time of the original trial (but not used then), as long as there is a good reason for it not being used. That reason is likely to be that your lawyers did not follow your instructions and obtain the necessary documents and witnesses. The appeal court judges obviously don't like to hear any criticism of their fellow lawyers, and so they seem willing to accept other excuses for evidence not being used at the time of the trial. Lawyers don't seem to have caught on to this change, and still advise their clients that evidence available at the time of the trial can't be used in the appeal. The law has changed. Tell them to read the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 section 4. It is very difficult to use the failure or incompetence of your lawyers as a ground of appeal in itself - it must be very bad indeed (and you must be able to prove it was very bad, with documentary evidence, and that the bad conduct of the case made a crucial difference to the jury's decision) before the appeal court will consider it. You may want to change your lawyers. The Court of Appeal will try to discourage you. Legal aid will not cover the cost of a second advice on appeal, but it may well be that it was your lawyers who were the problem in the first place! Insist on having the lawyers you need. Solicitors and barristers who genuinely believe in your case will not worry about getting paid because they know the case will go to appeal and then they will be paid by the court. Your whole future is at stake. You must do everything you can to make your appeal succeed - if it fails, the chances of putting things right afterwards are very low. Radical barristers who may be able to help can be found at: Tooks Court Chambers, 14 Tooks Court, Cursitor Street, London EC4A 1JY; and Doughtly Street Chambers, 11 Doughty Street, London WC1N 2PG. The appeal itself will probably not happen for 8 months or more. The court can uphold or overturn convictions, or quash a conviction and order a retrial. We believe that much happens behind the scenes: for example, appeal judges consult trial judges, or that the police let the judges know what they think. Appeal judges have enormous discretion, and can simply say they do or don't believe the evidence before them. They will of course always deny that they are swayed by outside influences. We think that appellants' counsel should be made aware of likely behind-the-scenes manoeuvres, and take steps to show the judges that they are, in effect, being manipulated by the police and their unjustified claims that they "know who the real villains are" ie evidence may be thin, and their methods may be very suspicious, but they "know" you are guilty really.. etc, etc.
Further appeals can go to the House of Lords only if a point of law is involved - this is rare, slow, and has a low chance of success. You can also approach the European Court, and must do so within 6 months of your appeal hearing, if you think your rights under the European Convention have been abrogated.
The Secretary, European Commission of Human Rights, Council of Europe, BP 431 R6, F-67006 STRASBOURG CEDEX.
Ask for the booklet explaining what your rights are (not many - don't get excited!).
After Appeal: the original section of this document has been removed it was out of date as the CCRC has been set up. If you want me to add more information on this email me.
Necessary disclaimer: You should take legal advice at all stages in the development of your case.
Good luck !