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What Grounds of Appeal do I need to Appeal Against a Criminal Conviction?

The law in this is covered in the Criminal Appeal Act 1968 which was updated in 1995. It is very simple law on the face of it. It says simply “The Court of Appeal shall allow an appeal against conviction if they think that the conviction is unsafe; and shall dismiss such an appeal in any other case.”

So the only thing that the Court of Appeal have to consider is whether the conviction is unsafe, if they do then they have no choice but they have to allow the appeal and quash the conviction.

What does unsafe mean? As with all legal terms it is open to interpretation. 


Some guidance is offered by the court in a case from 1997 where it said “If, for whatever reason, the Court concludes that the appellant was wrongly convicted of the offence charged, or is left in doubt whether the appellant was rightly convicted of that offence or not, then it must of necessity consider the conviction unsafe.” – in plain mans speaking if the court has some doubt about whether the guilty verdict was correct then they must allow the appeal.

Another court tried to clarify what is meant by unsafe. In 1999 the Court of Appeal said –


“In some cases unsafety will be obvious, as (for example) where it appears that someone other than the appellant committed the crime and the appellant did not, or where a conviction is shown to be wrong by serious unfairness in the conduct of the trial or significant legal misdirection, or where the jury verdict, in the context of other verdicts, defies any rational explanation.

Cases however arise in which unsafety is much less obvious: cases in which the court, although by no means persuaded of an appellant’s innocence, is subject to some lurking doubt or uneasiness whether an injustice has been done … If, on consideration of all the facts and circumstances of the case before it, the court has real doubts whether the appellant was guilty of the offence of which he has been convicted, the court will consider the conviction unsafe. In these less obvious cases the ultimate decision of the Court of Appeal will very much depend on its assessment of all the facts and circumstances.”


The lurking doubt principle means that the Court of Appeal can allow an appeal even though there was nothing wrong with the trial. However it is rarely used. It is only in very rare cases where the Court has no doubt that the conviction is unsafe. It is a ground of last resort.

The Court when looking at an appeal is not concerned with innocence or guilt. So even in cases where the evidence appears to show that someone is guilty the conviction will be set aside if it is unsafe, for example there was something wrong with the trial. Equally a successful appeal is not the same as saying someone is innocent.

What circumstances can you use to argue a conviction is unsafe?

There are a number of circumstances we can look at to show that your conviction is unsafe – Poor representation at the trial; mistakes or misconduct of the trial judge; Jury Irregularities; bias; inconsistent verdicts; disclosure issues. The most common basis is fresh evidence. 

When we work on a case we look at all of these circumstances so that we can prepare a full and strong argument for an appeal. Obviously not all of these with apply in every case but by taking a thorough and organised approach we can identify every possible strong point in your case and find things that other lawyers have missed.

If you would like us to look at your case and advise you on whether there are grounds to appeal then contact us on 01623 397200. Our fees are fixed in advance for every stage of the case. The initial stage involves obtaining the papers, taking a preliminary view of your case, speaking with you by video link and providing an initial advice. The cost for this start at £1500 including VAT depending on the amount of paperwork involved.


Call us for an initial chat on 01623 397200


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    • Private Prosecution