It is a privilege to have been asked to deliver the inaugural Criminal Cases Review Commission lecture. The CCRC has become one of the critical safeguards for our human, and thus fallible, criminal justice system, stepping in where things might have gone wrong. I very much hope – and anticipate – that this new lecture series will help to stimulate a lively and important debate around how that system, or as I prefer to call it, series of systems, operate.
I am mindful that this speech follows the highly successful conference held to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the CCRC in November and the lectures which dealt with the work of the CCRC and its undeniable importance. In the circumstances, I will endeavour not to tread over the ground covered by those eminent speakers. Instead my subject today is the pursuit of justice in crime a pursuit which is, of course at the core of what the CCRC does.
My starting point is John Rawls. In his Theory of Justice Rawls developed a distinction between three kinds of procedural justice; the basis on which a justice system could be viewed to provide a fair process. Two are relevant. They are perfect and imperfect procedural justice. He illustrates the former by reference to cutting a cake. The question is how do you divide it fairly between two people. There is a criterion for determining what is fair: did they get an equal division of the cake. That is independent from the procedure devised to ensure its divided fairly. In Rawls’ case, the answer is to ensure that the person cutting gets the last slice. Assuming the cutter can do the job properly, it is possible to devise a procedure which always produces the fair, the right outcome.