A new report has highlighted deeply concerning issues over the failure of police and prosecutors to fully disclose all evidence in advance of court trials failings which it is said could be leading to wrongful convictions.
The ‘Making it Fair’ report by HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSi) and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary has highlighted how many areas of evidence are not being disclosed to the defence until the very last moment, if at all.
This is a shocking situation.
A defendant has the right for all evidence to be fully explored by their legal team and then challenged in court to ensure a fair trial. This failure undermines that basic principle of our legal system.
Ensuring their legal representatives are aware of such evidence well in advance is essential, yet this report says there are often “chaotic scenes” outside courtrooms over disclosure failings at the “last-minute”.
Defence unaware of vital evidence as cases went to trial
Examples given in the report make for worrying reading.
One case involved an alleged sexual assault involving a child, but the case had to be delayed when it emerged a day before the trial that the child had written a letter which contradicted their evidence.
In another case where a defendant was to stand trial for burglary, police and prosecutors failed to disclose evidence to the defence that although chisel marks had been found on a window of the burgled property and that the defendant was found with a chisel, the two didn’t match.
The jury were discharged and a retrial ordered after the judge decided their view of the matter had been distorted by the failure.
In summary, the report suggests police and prosecutors are undermining justice in criminal trials by failing to follow basic rules.
HMCPSi chief inspector Kevin McGinty says the failure ‘has a corrosive effect on the criminal justice system’, undermining the principles of a fair trial, and that is certainly something I’d agree with.
Securing convictions must never come at the cost of our legal rights
Through our work at Hudgell Solicitors in representing people in actions against the police such as for wrongful arrest and unlawful detention, we see too many occasions where police forces have failed to follow basic standards and procedures.
It is therefore sadly not a shock to me to see the report has found police officers’ record keeping to be ‘routinely poor’.
We all appreciate the pressures on police forces to secure successful convictions, drive down crime rates and make our streets and communities safer.
But handling that pressure and meeting targets must never come at the expense of breaching our human rights and in particular that right to a fair trial as set out in Article 6 European Convention of Human Rights.
Such failures will inevitably, in some case, lead to innocent people being wrongly convicted.
Each and every case brought to trial must be done fairly and in a way in which a jury can make a verdict based on all evidence gathered.
Sadly, at present, that may not be the case for all, and that is not how the justice system was devised to work.