[Thesis]. Manchester, UK: The University of Manchester; 2020.
The criminal justice system operates within the constraints that it can only determine
a person's guilt within the confines of the law and the information used at trial.
The actual truth of an alleged offence may never be fully established. If the system
is to operate fairly, it must balance the rights of the accuser (as a potential victim)
with the rights of those accused. The thesis asserts early on that in England and
Wales, the sustained politicisation of law and order has affected this balance, increasing
the weight now afforded to potential victims of crime. This, however, includes those
claiming to be victims, before a crime has been established or any trial process has
begun. As such, the increase in rights and protections for those bringing accusations
can erode safeguards protecting those accused from wrongful conviction.
The thesis examines this effect through the lens of historical sexual abuse (HSA)
cases. It identifies risk factors making this case category vulnerable to error, such
as the paucity of evidence, and discusses the inherent difficulties they present for
those seeking to appeal a conviction. The thesis analyses several recent scandals,
resembling a moral panic, which prompted measures designed to facilitate prosecution.
The collective effect of these changes is argued to have increased the likelihood
of wrongful convictions, similar to the temporary and emergency provisions brought
in to facilitate convictions following Northern Ireland-related terror attacks. In
these cases, several convictions were subsequently found unsafe due to the systemic
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the Criminal Cases Review Commission ('CCRC',
an organisation re-investigating alleged miscarriages of justice) checks applications
made to it for potential procedural error and credible investigative avenues indicating
that the conviction or sentence was unjust. The thesis queries whether the systemic
factors disadvantaging those appealing HSA cases (as indicated in literature) are
adequately picked up on at the CCRC, given its position as a statutory body operating
within the justice system, and according to the constraints of the law.
A review of every HSA conviction the CCRC has referred back to an appeal court indicated
that it is adequately able to identify potential injustice. While most cases were
referred (and quashed) due to subsequent evidence weakening complainant credibility,
compromising the safety of the conviction, few of the causative factors frequently
discussed in the literature on wrongful HSA convictions were reflected in the CCRC-referred
appeals. Case decision-making in relation to HSA convictions was found to be exceptionally
liberal, indicating that potential wrongful HSA convictions are successfully being
identified. However, in several cases, both the (allegedly conservative) CCRC and
appeal courts note the likelihood of the applicant's guilt, despite legal technicalities
compelling them to refer or quash a conviction. This undermines the supposition that
those wrongly convicted for HSA cannot get their cases referred by the CCRC, and indicates
that, in these cases, the balance of justice is in fact weighted in favour of upholding
the due process of law.