The North has the highest level of quashed criminal convictions in the UK, it emerged today.
A greater percentage of cases were also referred to the Court of Appeal last year, a report by officials examining possible miscarriages of justice said.
Sexual guilty verdicts are among the most likely to be appealed and Helena Bracken, regional manager north west at the Nexus Institute for victims of sexual attacks, said she was disturbed.
“When somebody is convicted the victim is vindicated and obtains closure; so to go back again you can’t even envisage the emotional and psychological damage it would cause,” she said.
“Often their lives are completely shattered. It is sending out the wrong message to victims and it looks like everything is stacked in favour of the perpetrators.”
Delivery of drugs cases are often challenged and greater modern expertise means flaws can be uncovered in technical evidence given during trials.
Of the 131 applications to the Criminal Cases Review Commission by March this year, there were 16 referrals to the Court of Appeal, a rate of 14%. This compared to the UK average of 4%.
Once judges reviewed the evidence 13 convictions were quashed and two upheld (87%). The comparable rate across the UK was 68%.
The numbers involved are relatively low and none of the statutory agencies were able to provide firm reasons for the North’s high levels of struck out convictions.
Earlier this year Derry man Charlie McMenamin, 45, walked free from from court 27 years after being wrongly convicted of terrorist offences in the city.
He was only 16 when found guilty and spent three years in custody. His case had been referred to the Court of Appeal by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.
He was in a training school on the day the schoolboy was alleged to have been involved in a gun attack on soldiers in the Bogside.
The information led to an official at the Director of Public Prosecutions telling the RUC that the charges were not to be proceeded with but that was never passed on to the prosecuting lawyer.
Commissioners will continue to consider cases from the North.