UK Government

Criminal Cases Review Commission: Commission refers the cocaine supply conviction of Besnik Qema to the Crown Court

Press Release   •   Jan 12, 2010 11:54 GMT

The Criminal Cases Review Commission has referred the cocaine supply conviction of Besnik Qema to the Crown Court.

Mr Qema was convicted at Bow Street magistrates' court on 14th February 2005, after pleading guilty to charges of supplying cocaine and possessing a fake passport.

He was sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on March 14th 2005 to a total of four-and-a-half years' imprisonment.

Mr Qema was arrested by police in London on 12th February following an "undercover operation" involving the News of the World newspaper.

Mr Qema appealed against his sentence on the grounds that it was manifestly excessive and, on 24th June 2005, the Court of Appeal reduced the sentence by nine month to a total of three years nine months' imprisonment.

Mr Qema sought to appeal against his conviction in August 2006. However, because, under the circumstances, there is no automatic right of appeal against a conviction from magistrates' court following a guilty plea, a referral by the Criminal Cases Review Commission to the relevant Crown Court is the only route by which the safety of this conviction can be considered (see notes). Mr Qema applied to the Commission for a review of his conviction in October 2006.

Having considered a range of issues, including the circumstances giving rise to Mr Qema's arrest, questions about the role played by a particular individual who put Mr Qema in contact with the journalist, and the subsequent prosecution processes, the Commission has decided to refer Mr Qema's convictions to the Crown Court because it considers that there is a real possibility that the court will not uphold them.

He is represented by Mr Butcher of BSB Solicitors, 5 - 7 Euston Road, Kings Cross, London, NW1 2SA. Telephone: 0207 837 3456.

This press release was issued by Justin Hawkins, Head of Communication, Criminal Cases Review Commission, on 0121 633 1806 or e-mail press@ccrc.gov.uk

NOTES TO EDITORS

1. Mr Qema's original appeal against sentence was heard in the Court of Appeal because, although he was convicted in the magistrates' court, he was sent to the Crown Court to be sentenced. When Mr Qema sought leave from the Court of Appeal to appeal against his conviction, the Court of Appeal declined jurisdiction because Mr Qema was convicted in the magistrates' court and the appropriate appeal court for summary convictions is the Crown Court. However, Mr Qema pleaded guilty in the magistrates' court and in the circumstances of a guilty plea, the only route to appeal against conviction in Crown Court is by way of a referral from the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

2. 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.

3. There are 11 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.

4. The Commission receives around 1,000 applications for reviews (convictions and/or sentences) each year.  Typically, around 4%, or one in 25, of all applications are referred to the appeal courts.

5. 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".

6. If a case is referred, it is then for the appeal court to decide whether the conviction is unsafe or the sentence unfair.

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