Increasing numbers of ‘unmeritorious’ appeals could have the effect of ‘clogging the arteries’ of the court of appeal, the registrar of criminal appeals has warned.
In the court’s annual review published today, Master Egan QC says that with pressure on funding and as the number of applications increase, the court may give a ‘more rigorous look at the quality of applications’.
He says legal aid lawyers are ‘being squeezed’, but warns that the court will ‘adopt a high line’ in granting representation orders. Egan says: ‘Appellants who need representation must get it but it is unrealistic for there to be an expectation of paid funding for every application that the court of appeal receives.
‘Unhappily there are very many unmeritorious applications and those could have the effect of clogging the arteries of the court if they are not looked at and dispatched critically and justly.’
While praising barristers who do pro bono applications where leave to appeal is refused, he says: ‘It is not the case that the court will grant leave and a retrospective representation order merely because counsel is willing to argue the point.’
Egan advises barristers to consider carefully the single judge’s reasons for refusing leave, adding: ‘I sometime wonder whether they are examined as carefully as they should be.’
The review, from 1 October 2011 to 30 September 2012, shows that the number of cases received by the court rose by 6% to 7,442. Of those, 5,711 were appeals against sentence (compared with 5,481 the year before) and 1,731 were appeals against conviction, up from 1,491.
Almost 73% of conviction appeals were refused by the single judge and 65% of appeals against sentence were similarly refused.
The review shows that on average over the a three-year period 11% of conviction appeals and 25% of sentence appeals are successful.
Egan notes the ‘significant increase’ in conviction appeals and the decrease in successful cases – the average calculated over three years to 2012 is 11% compared with 12.8% for the three years to 2011.
He says: ‘This statistic does not always give the true picture; nevertheless is does not refute the impression that there has been an increase in unmeritorious applications.’
Introducing the report, the lord chief justice Lord Judge says the court continues to be concerned about jurors’ use of the web and social media. ‘There have been an increasing number of cases in which grounds of appeal against conviction have featured allegations of jury impropriety relating to the misuse of technology.’
Judge says the issue will require ‘close attention’ to ‘ensure the continuing integrity of the jury system’.