An unnecessary lack of transparency in courts is hampering efforts to challenge wrongful convictions, according to the authors of an open justice charter. The Centre for Criminal Appeals, set up in 2014 to represent wrongly convicted prisoners, is calling for recordings of court proceedings to be made available free of charge and an end to the practice of destroying them after seven years.
According to the charter, justice in Britain lags behind even the poorest US states in providing access to information. 'There, access to court transcripts has been a right for decades whereas here it costs individuals thousands of pounds to prove what happened at trial. This makes it very difficult for people who are innocent but have little money to show they were wrongly convicted,' James Burley, an investigator at the centre, said.
'Technological advances have made this situation totally unnecessary and a national embarrassment.'
The five-part charter calls for:
- Recordings of all court proceedings to be available free of charge. In future cases, the unavailability of a complete recording of the trial should in itself be grounds for appeal;
- Police documentation to be available to the defence unless the police can give the trial judge a specific valid justification for why a document or extract should not be disclosed;
- Individuals seeking to appeal a conviction should be granted controlled access to exhibits and evidence for forensic examination.
- Journalists should generally be allowed to visit prisoners with the consent of the prisoner. Where this is disallowed, the burden of proof should be on the prison governor and open to appeal; and
- Materials obtained or produced by the Criminal Cases Review Commission should be made available to representatives of applicants.
The charter can be viewed on the website.