We have covered the case of Mick and Mairead Philpott who, along with Paul Mosley, were found guilty of the manslaughter of six children. We now know that Ms Philpott and Mr Mosley will be persuing an appeal against their sentences of 17 years each. This will be heard on 29th November 2013.
Reading the news, you could be forgiven for being a bit confused. The BBC headline reads : “Mairead Philpott and Paul Mosley second appeal date set“, whilst their local paper, the Derby Telegraph, reported : “A DATE has been set for an appeal by“, with no mention of the first appeal.
Which is right? The multi-national, multi-million pound BBC, trusted by millions around the globe, or the Philpotts local rag? Sadly, the latter (although, in fairness to the BBC, they have a side bar that gives the correct information), which is why you haven’t heard on the news about a first appeal.
What has happened here is that the headline writer has got a bit confused as to how an appeal operates. For full details, we have a factsheet on appeals to the Court of Appeal here. In essence though, there is no right to appeal the sentence (or conviction), just a right to apply to appeal the sentence.
There is a filtering process. The defendant will draft grounds of appeal – reasons why they say that the sentence (in this case) is wrong. This then goes to the ‘Single Judge’ – a High Court Judge who will look at the papers and decide if the case is arguable (in which case he will give permission for a full hearing before the ‘Full Court’ – a panel of, usually three, judges who will decide the case after listening to arguments from the defence and, sometimes, the prosecution) or not.
If the Single Judge says no, then the defendant can ask to renew the application before the Full Court.
That is what has happened here. There is one appeal. As part of the process, Ms Philpott and Mr Mosley would have sent a written application to the Court of Appeal. This was refused by the Single Judge and what is happening on 29th November is that they will be renewing this application before three Judges.
Whilst it may seem a matter of semantics, it is important for news organisations (particularly one as prestigious as the BBC) to get these matters right. The headline could give the impression that appeals and second appeals are routine, which may damage peoples faith in the system. They are not routine – they are very rare, and even more rarely are they successful. We will see next month whether this one is.