Research undertaken for the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice found that in about 80 per cent of cases where convictions were quashed, there had been an error at the trial, usually by the judge.
Of 300 appeals in 1990, just over one-third were successful, according to the survey by Kate Malleson of the London School of Economics. Almost two-thirds of defendants appealed against conviction on the ground that the trial judge had made a crucial mistake and, of these, 43 per cent succeeded in having their convictions quashed.
Sixteen defendants were backed by the Court of Appeal when they claimed that the judge's summing-up was biased or poor; a further 42 convictions were quashed because the judge was wrong about the law or about the evidence.
However, the researchers criticised the Court of Appeal for failing to consider cases where fresh evidence had emerged since the trial or where there was 'lurking doubt' about the conviction.
This showed that the court was reluctant to use its powers to look at cases where, for example, a new witness had come to light. The report says that the Court of Appeal should be given a new role, allowing it to investigate the events leading up to a conviction.
A second study carried out for the Royal Commission found that the advice lawyers gave prisoners on their chances of a successful appeal was 'variable and inconsistent'.
There was 'widespread ignorance, both of some aspects of the law on appeals and of the guidelines to good practice', the study, by Joyce Plotnikoff and Richard Woolfson of the University of Birmingham, found. Even guides produced by the Law Society, Bar Council and the Court of Appeal contained omissions, they said.
The report recommended that defendants be allowed to spend 15 minutes discussing an appeal with their lawyers at the end of the trial.Reuse content