- The Court of Appeal was established in 1966
- It’s divided into the Civil and Criminal Divisions
- Cases are heard by Lord Justices of Appeal
- Only ¼ of cases on appeal will go ahead
- It can reduce a sentence, but may not increase it
WHAT IS THE COURT OF APPEAL?
If a convicted person feels he or she has not had a fair trial in the Crown Court, has been wrongfully convicted, or feels that the sentence imposed by the Judges is unfair, then he or she can take their case to the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division), where more Senior Judges will consider the merits of their case.
In order to avoid a logjam scenario where the Court would be inundated with appeals, it is necessary to filter out any which are unlikely to succeed. Therefore the Defendant must first get Leave to Appeal (permission) from the Court of Appeal, or a certificate stating the case is fit for an appeal from the Judge who originally heard the case.
A Court of Appeal Judge (there are 35 Lord Justices of Appeal) will decide whether the case is suitable for reconsideration. Only about a quarter of the cases put forward for appeal will actually be permitted to go ahead. However, this is still not a guarantee that the case will ultimately be successful. The Court hears about 6,000 Criminal Appeals and applications each year.
HOW DOES IT FIGHT CRIME?
The test for the Court is whether it is satisfied that the verdict, which a reasonable jury could have returned after a proper summing up, could only have been one of guilty. Sometimes the Court decides to “apply the proviso”. This means it agrees with the arguments of the party bringing the appeal, but considers there to have been no Miscarriage of Justice. This means the conviction is left unaltered.
If the convicted person is claiming that their sentence is too severe, then the Judges can reduce it. However, they have no power to increase it.
Criminal proceedings are tipped in favour of the Defendant at all times. It is a basic principle of English law that the Accused is innocent until proven guilty.
Consequently, when the Prosecution wants to appeal against an acquittal, their powers are more limited. They cannot appeal against the findings of a jury unless the jury or witnesses have been bribed or threatened. If there has been a conviction for “jury nobbling” then the Prosecution can apply to the High Court for an order quashing the acquittal.
However, provided the Accused has been convicted, the Prosecution can challenge a sentence that they think is too lenient. The Prosecution does this by writing to the Attorney General and asking him to refer a case to the Court of Appeal for re-sentencing. It is not just the Prosecution who can ask the Attorney General to do this. Members of the public, such as distressed relatives of the victim, can also request this.
WHAT IS THE HISTORY?
In the early days of English law there were no Appeal Courts.
If a person wanted to appeal against a judicial decision then they could, in some cases, appeal to the Court of King’s Bench, and from there to the House of Lords. From the late Medieval period until the 17th century, important civil and criminal cases were informally discussed by Barristers and Judges at Sergeants’ Inn in London or a room at Westminster called the Exchequer Chamber. Their decisions were respected by the Court.
In 1848, a Court for Crown Cases Reserved was set up. This had the power to hear cases which the trial judge wanted to refer. This was replaced by the Court of Criminal Appeal, created by the Judicature Act, 1873. It took over powers previously exercised by the Court of Exchequer Chamber, the Lord Chancellor, the Court of Appeal in Chancery, and the Privy Council in admiralty and lunacy cases.
The present Court of Appeal, which sits as a Criminal Division, replaced the Court of Criminal Appeal in 1966.
The Court Service
105 Victoria Street