The High Court has blamed government officials for creating a 'dysfunctional' relationship between the Ministry of Justice and the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC).
Lawyers acting for Gary Warner, who challenged the CCRC's decision to reject his application following his conviction for conspiracy to rob, accused the Ministry of Justice of undermining the independence of the miscarriages of justice watchdog.
The challenge centred around changes imposed by the Ministry of Justice to the pay and tenure of the commissioners and reduction in size of the CCRC’s board, which lawyers argued undermined the ability of the commissioners to act independently.
The court dismissed Warner’s appeal, ruling that the new tenure arrangements were 'not tainted by bias or the appearance of bias' and that the board changes were a 'proper endeavour, undertaken for good governance reasons'.
But Lord Justice Fulford and Mrs Justice Whipple said the judicial review revealed the 'dysfunctional' relationship between the CCRC and the ministry between 2016-18.
They said: 'The poverty of this relationship undoubtedly tested the CCRC’s ability to remain independent of MoJ, and to be seen to be so.'
The court said that the ministry had 'pressed ahead' with the changes and ignored 'genuine concerns' about the impact on the CCRC’s ability to perform its statutory functions. It said the 'most troubling' issue concerned the failure to reappoint a commissioner who had sought to resist the changes.
However by the appointment of the new CCRC chair, Helen Pitcher, in 2018 the court said the events 'must now recede into history'.
But Dr Hannah Quirk, reader in criminal law at King’s College, London and former CCRC case review manager, told the Gazette: 'His case raises profound concerns about the operation of the commission and its relationship with the Ministry of Justice, which the court has dismissed too glibly.'
A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman welcomed the 'the court’s recognition that the Criminal Cases Review Commission is constitutionally and operationally independent'.