Hoyle and Sato’s new book, Reasons to Doubt, reveals what happens to applications for post-conviction review when those in England, Wales and Northern Ireland who believe they are wrongfully convicted apply to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, the only body that can refer a case back to the Court of Appeal once appellants’ opportunities for direct appeal are exhausted. While the Court is obliged to hear all such referrals, the Commission can only refer a case where it believes there is a ‘real possibility’ that the Court will quash the conviction. The first empirical study of all stages of decision-making within the Commission, this book starts from the premise that the test applied by the Commission (the ‘real possibility test’) is not inflexible. Though created by statute and refined through case law, it must be determined on a case-by-case basis, drawing too on cultural and structural variables, alongside fresh evidence gathered by the Commission.

Through in-depth analysis of case files and interviews, Hoyle and Sato have scrutinized the Commission’s operational practices, its working rules and assumptions, considering how these influence its understanding of the ‘real possibility test’. Situating their rich empirical data within a framework of the Commission’s social, organisational, and legal contexts, they demonstrate that in its open-ended investigations there is considerable scope for discretion; for thorough exploration of all possible avenues or for choosing a more superficial consideration of a case. It emerges that while structured internal guidance, drawing heavily on Court jurisprudence, shapes decision-making, creating consistency in approach, there remains some variability across cases, over time, that can be accounted for by the different professional backgrounds and personalities of Commission staff.

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A drinks reception will follow at 5pm in Seminar Room D, St Cross Building, St Cross Road, Oxford OX1 3UL