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Revealed: The total number of wrongful convictions made in the UK

  • There were 1,336 successful appeals against both decisions of Magistrates’ courts and the Court of Appeal between June 2019 and March 2020
  • The highest number of appeals against magistrates’ verdicts was in London

New freedom of information requests submitted by The University of Law (ULaw), have revealed the total number of wrongful convictions that have taken place in the UK² and which areas of the country are seeing the highest volume of conviction appeals.

Between June 2019 and March 2020, there were 1,336 successful appeals against both decisions of Magistrates’ courts and the Court of Appeal Criminal Division. Of these,1,272 appeals were against decisions of Magistrates’ courts, including those cases for non-criminal matters, such as licensing and care proceedings in juvenile cases.

Jennifer Schmidt-Petersen, Programme and Student Lead for Policing Programmes at ULaw, explains the current appeals process in the UK: “An appeal is a complete rehearing of the whole case, therefore any evidence not put before the magistrates may be adduced at the appeal. You should always talk to your legal representative or seek help from a legal adviser before making an appeal.”

In 2018, Magistrates’ courts received 1.469 million cases³ and disposed of 1.473 million. Of the cases received, 79% were for summary offences or breaches, meaning that they could be resolved in the Magistrates’ Court without the need for a trial. However, of the 103,000 cases brought to Crown Courts in England and Wales in 2018³, only 8% were cases of appeals against decisions in the Magistrates’ court.

The new findings also highlighted the regions where the highest number of appeals are:

  1. London - 254
  2. Midlands - 234
  3. South East - 214
  4. North East - 210
  5. North West - 158

The Court of Appeal is the second most senior court in England and Wales. In the last 12 months, there were 64 successful appeals against convictions heard in the Court of Appeal Criminal Division in total, with the highest number of successful appeals coming from Snaresbrook (5), followed by Lewes and Isleworth, both with four successful overturned convictions.

A huge 916 applications for leave to appeal against conviction were also received in the Criminal Appeal Office between June 2019 and March 2020. Jenn explains: “Leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal is required in all cases that relate to a conviction or sentence. There is a time limit of 28 days within which a judge may grant a certificate of fitness for appeal.”

Summarising the findings, Jenn adds: “With crime documentaries like Making a Murderer drawing in huge audiences across the world and searches for ‘wrongful convictions in the UK’ rising by a huge 84%¹ in the last 12 months, there’s clear interest in the UK justice system.

“There are rules and regulations in place to make sure that justice prevails, however, from this data we can see that a huge number of wrongful convictions are still made in the UK. With that said, sometimes appeals are necessary when new evidence comes to light, which might make all the difference between a guilty or not guilty plea.

“It’s interesting to see this increase in interest, perhaps spurred on by pop culture figures like Kim Kardashian being so vocal, which we hope ignites a passion among the future generations of legal talent to make a difference.”

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