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Reform group wants new appeal system

THE PRESENT system of investigating alleged miscarriages of justice is so flawed it should be scrapped immediately, according to law reformers, writes Heather Mills.

Too many innocent people are being kept in prison because the Home Office division which reviews convictions, known as C3, is secretive and can take years to reach decisions, they claim.

Although a new independent investigative body is almost certain to be the main recommendation of the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice next week, the campaigning group Justice argued in its annual report yesterday that would take too long to set up.

Calling for a temporary standing inquiry to look into cases of concern, Justice said: 'Urgent interim action is needed while a permanent body is under consideration.'

One of the main areas of concern to Justice is non-disclosure of evidence by the Home Office and police. Police and prosecution decisions to keep secret evidence which might have pointed to a person's innocence have been repeatedly condemned by the Court of Appeal in recent injustice cases. Appeal judges have underlined that the onus is on the police and prosecution to release all relevant material.

But Justice points out that non-disclosure remains a major obstacle. In one case, John Kamara - jailed two years ago for life for a robbery and murder - has sought disclosure of evidence uncovered by an inquiry into his conviction. The Home Office have told him: '. . . statements taken during a police enquiry are the property of the chief constable of the force concerned and it is entirely a matter for him whether they should be disclosed.'

But Merseyside police say that having discussed the matter with the Home Office they cannot 'comply with that request'.

Anne Owers, director of Justice, said yesterday that the group is to seek a judicial review of the non-disclosure in his case. 'Failure of prosecutors and police to disclose evidence has been shown to be a major cause of miscarriages of justice. It is therefore particularly indefensible that the Home Office and police, in investigating such miscarriages, should act together to block open assessment of all the available evidence,' she said.

Justice Annual Report; 95a Chancery Lane, London WC2; pounds 2.50.