Commission refers the murder conviction of Alexander Blackman – Marine A – to the Courts Martial Appeal Court

This statement contains: 

  • The CCRC’s statement and a comment about the decision to refer Alexander Blackman’s murder conviction and sentence for appeal and the broad reasons for that decision.
  • Information about CCRC availability for comment and interview about this case.
  • Information about what happens when a case is referred by the CCRC and the range of possible outcomes to that process. 

The Criminal Cases Review Commission is referring the murder conviction and sentence of former Royal Marine Alexander Blackman to the Courts Martial Appeal Court.

Alexander Blackman was convicted of murder after shooting dead a wounded enemy combatant in Afghanistan on 15th September 2011.

Mr Blackman pleaded not guilty when tried for murder at a Court Martial at the Military Court Centre, Bulford, Wiltshire, between 23rd October and 8th November 2013.

He was one of three Royal Marines tried by Court Martial for the murder of the unidentified man killed in Afghanistan. At the time of trial Mr Blackman’s identity was protected and he was referred to only as Marine A. His co-defendants were referred to as Marine B and Marine C.

The board[1] convicted Mr Blackman of murder contrary to section 42 of the Armed Forces Act 2006 and, on 6th December 2013, he was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum custodial term of ten years. He was also reduced to the ranks and dismissed with disgrace from Her Majesty’s Service.

Marine B and Marine C were acquitted of murder.

Mr Blackman appealed against his conviction and sentence. In May 2014 the appeal against conviction was dismissed but the Court reduced the minimum custodial term of his life sentence to eight years.

On 16 December 2015 Mr Blackman applied to the Criminal Cases Review Commission for a review of his conviction and sentence.

Following an in-depth eleven-month long investigation, the Commission has decided to refer the case to the Courst Martial Appeal Court.

The referral is made on the basis of a number of issues including:

  • New evidence, including new expert evidence acquired by the Commission, relating to Mr Blackman’s mental state at the time of the offence.
  • The fact that an alternative verdict of unlawful act manslaughter was not available to the board when it considered the case.

The Commission has concluded that these issues raise a real possibility that the Courts Martial Appeal Court[2] will now quash Mr Blackman’s murder conviction.

It will now be for the Court to hear a fresh appeal and to decide the case.

David James Smith, lead CCRC Commissioner on the case, said: “We have scrutinised this murder conviction in minute detail and after a thorough investigation we have concluded that there are new issues – principally relating to Mr Blackman’s state of mind at the time of the shooting – which in our view raise a real possibility that an appeal against conviction would now succeed. On that basis we are sending the case back to the Courts Martial Appeal Court so that a fresh appeal can be heard.”

The detailed reasons for the referral will be set out in a document prepared by the Commission and called a Statement of Reasons. That Statement of Reasons will be supplied to Mr Blackman and his legal team, led by Mr Jonathan Goldberg QC. It will also be sent to the Service Prosecution Authority and the Courts Martial Appeal Court. The Commission is not at liberty to make the Statement of Reasons public.[3]

The Commission’s review in this case has been extensive and detailed. As well as looking at a 100-page report outlining Mr Blackman’s submissions, with supporting documents and authorities running to several hundred pages, made to us by Mr Blackman’s legal team, the Commission has also considered whether other matters not raised in the application could impact upon the safety of his conviction and has interviewed relevant parties.

For the purposes of its review in this case the Commission has used its statutory powers to obtain material from: The Royal Military Police, the Service Prosecuting Authority; the Military Court Service, the Royal Marines, the Navy and the Ministry of Defence; The Commission also has commissioned independent expert medical evidence and obtained and considered defence files, medical files, transcripts of various legal proceedings and other material.

Interview /Comment from the CCRC

The lead Commissioner in this case, David James Smith, will be available for interviews in Birmingham on the afternoon of 6th December or on December 7th. Please be aware that the extent to which the Commission can offer further comment on this case or provide specific details about the reasons for the referral is limited. Mr Smith will be available to comment in person along the lines provided in this press release.

To make an arrangement call Justin Hawkins on 0121 232 0906 or on 07974 355 231.

What happens when the CCRC refers a case for appeal?

When a case is referred by the Commission to the appropriate appeal court, the CCRC Statement of Reasons is sent to the applicant, to the court and to the prosecuting authority (so that it can decide if /how to oppose the appeal).

A referral by the Commission means that the relevant appeal court is obliged to hear a full appeal. There is no need for an application for leave to appeal as long as the grounds for the appeal form part of the Commission’s reasons for referring the case. (If an appellant wishes to add grounds of appeal that do not form part of the Commission’s Statement of Reasons, they must seek the court’s leave (permission) to do so.

Once a CCRC referral is made, the Commission plays no further part in the case. It is not involved in the subsequent appeal. The listing and hearing of the appeal itself is a matter for the appeal court and the parties to the appeal.

What is the range of possible outcomes?

The appeal court can:

  • Uphold the conviction (also known as dismissing the appeal)
  • Quash (overturn) the conviction
  • Quash the conviction and substitute it with another (as in cases where a murder conviction is quashed and substituted with a manslaughter conviction)
  • Quash the conviction and order a retrial.

This press release was issued by Justin Hawkins, Head of Communication, Criminal Cases Review Commission, on 0121 232 0906 or e-mail.

 Footnotes
[1] Instead of a jury which is asked to hear a case and reach a verdict in a Crown Court trial, a Court Martial involves a “board” of up to seven service personnel. Seven personnel were involved in this case.
[2] The Courts Martial Appeal Court is effectively the civilian Court of Appeal Criminal Division constituted to hear appeals from the Court Martial.
[3] Statutory restrictions on disclosure in the Criminal Appeal Act 1995 mean that, even where a case is referred, the Commission cannot provide very much detail regarding the substance of its investigations other than to the applicant, the appeal court and other parties such as the relevant prosecuting authority. When a case is referred, it means that an appeal will be heard, usually in public, at which the findings of the Commission’s investigation will be considered. Mr Blackman and his legal team are at liberty to share the Commission’s Statement of Reasons if they choose to do so.

Notes for editors

  1. The Commission is an independent body set up under the Criminal Appeal Act 1995. It is responsible for reviewing suspected and alleged miscarriages of criminal justice in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It is based in Birmingham and is funded by the Ministry of Justice.
  2. There are currently ten Commissioners who bring to the Commission considerable experience from a wide variety of backgrounds. Commissioners are appointed by the Queen on the recommendation of the Prime Minister in accordance with the Office for the Commissioner for Public Appointments’ Code of Practice.
  3. The Commission usually receives around 1,500 applications for reviews (convictions and/or sentences) each year.  Typically, around 3.5%, or one in 29, of all applications are referred to the appeal courts.
  4. The Commission considers whether, as a result of new evidence or argument, there is a real possibility that the conviction would not be upheld were a reference to be made.  New evidence or argument is argument or evidence which has not been raised during the trial or on appeal.  Applicants should usually have appealed first. A case can be referred in the absence of new evidence or argument or an earlier appeal only if there are “exceptional circumstances”.
  5. If a case is referred, it is then for the appeal court to decide whether the conviction is unsafe or the sentence unfair.