HOWARD YIELDS ON MISCARRIAGES OF JUSTICE

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, yesterday capitulated to the courts and lifted a major obstacle from the path of convicted people seeking to prove their innocence.

He will not appeal against last month's High Court ruling which swept away the secrecy surrounding the way he investigates alleged miscarriages of justice and said he had acted unlawfully in four test cases.

It also emerged yesterday that he has since referred one of the contested cases - that of Paul Malone, who has served eight years for robberies he says he did not commit - back to the Court of Appeal A second case, that of Sammy Davis, convicted of rape,looks set to follow - after the High Court told Mr Howard his earlier decision not to refer the case was "irrational". Lawyers acting in the third case , that of the four men convicted of the 1978 murder of Carl Bridgewater, the 13-year-old newspaper boy, say it will only be a matter of time before that case is also referred. That is because the judge's ruling compelled Mr Howard to disclose evidence in his possession, which the men believe will cast doubts on their conviction.

Yesterday Jim Nichol, the men's solicitor, said he had sent a letter requesting undisclosed evidence including fingerprint material, , documents of differing police accounts about the critical confession of one of the four - Patrick Malloy, who has died in jail - and the testimony of three forensic experts.

"I see no reason why I cannot have the material by the end of the week. The Home Office knows quite clearly what it has been sitting on. I see this as a simple photocopying job."

Mr Nichol is also awaiting a response to no less than three further petitions for the case to be referred back to the Court of Appeal., Mr Howard's decision, announced in answer to a parliamentary question from Chris Mullin, the Labour MP and justice campaigner, ends the 20-year-old practice of not revealing what is in his files.

Defence lawyers hope he will now speed up the process for introducing a new independent body for investigating alleged miscarriages - recommended by the Royal Commission three years ago, but not outlined until last month - and that the court ruling will provide a starting point.

There has long been concern about secrecy, the role of the executive in a judicial process and the delay, which marks the current system of review carried out by the C3 division of the Home Office. The decision to send the case of Mr Malone to the Court of Appeal, for example, took over two years.

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