On 1 August 2014 it was revealed that Rolf Harris had applied for permission to appeal against his convictions for indecent assault.
An appeal must be lodged within 28 days of the conviction (so a defendant is not allowed to wait until the sentence – if it is adjourned – to see what the sentence is).
To launch a successful appeal, there must (generally) be an ‘error of law’ identified. This means that the defendant will have to identify something that went wrong. Common examples of this are a ‘misdirection’ by the Judge to the jury (where the Judge gave the jury the wrong instruction as to the law) or that evidence should not have been admitted (for example, hearsay evidence).
Every application will be sent to a High Court Judge (called the ‘Single Judge’) who will consider the written application. This is done just by reading the papers and neither the person trying appeal or the Prosecution will appear in front of them.
Normally he or she will decide whether there is a reasonable prospect of an appeal succeeding. If there is, then they will grant permission and the case will go forward to a full hearing. If they think that there is no reasonable prospect of an appeal succeeding then they will refuse permission.
A full appeal hearing will be heard by three Judges, normally one Lord Justice of Appeal (who sits full time in the Court of Appeal) and two High Court Judges.
The appeal will not be a rehearing of the case and it is very rare for evidence to be heard. The Court will hear argument and decide whether the conviction is ‘unsafe’. This will normally be a two stage test – firstly, was there an error of law made and, secondly, if so then would it have made a difference to the trial?
The Court are supposed to ensure that they are not judging the case again, only deciding whether the verdict is safe. The case of Pendleton shows that they do not always do this, as well as giving a good overview of how the Court of Appeal should approach an appeal.
If permission is refused, then the individual can renew the application before the ‘Full Court’ – the panel of three Judges, who can dismiss the application or grant permission.
If the Court of Appeal allows the appeal then they can either quash the conviction and leave it at that, or order a re-trial. If they order a re-trial then the case will go back to the Crown Court for another trial. There a variety of factors that they will take into account in deciding whether there should be a re-trial, such as whether any sentence has been completed and how serious the offence is.
What does this mean for Rolf?
Well, the papers will be prepared and considered as outlined above. We aren’t aware of the grounds of appeal and so no speculation as to the likelihood of success can reasonably be made. When we hear of the result, we’ll post about it.