It is highly significant that around 50 drug-driving prosecutions have been dropped because of concerns that original test results may have been “manipulated”.
It comes as a major investigation continues into forensic samples allegedly being manipulated at a company working for police forces across the UK.
Concerns were first raised in February when investigations were launched at Randox Testing Services in Manchester, and two men were arrested on suspicion of perverting the course of justice.
At the time we were told around 484 cases in which people had been prosecuted could result in convictions being quashed.
Now, we are told the number of cases affected is around 10,000, with 42 forces across the UK having sent its data for analysis to the Manchester-based company which is under investigation.
Two cases in which people were convicted over road deaths already look to be heading towards the Court of Appeal.
And as specialists in supporting people who feel their human rights have been breached at Hudgell Solicitors, we are currently advising a number of people in relation to this ongoing matter.
Retests have only scratched surface of potential scale of injustice
Although the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) has been keen to stress that the vast majority of cases involved traffic offences such as drug driving (around 75%), others do involve prosecutions relating to violent crime, sexual offences and unexplained deaths.
We are told a total of 1,500 retests will have been completed by the end of the year, but to get through the huge retesting programme could take as long as three years, and even then not all samples under question will be able to be re-tested, as some are no longer viable because of their quality or quantity.
Given many of the 50 cases dropped so far were due to go to trial, this situation could result in thousands suffering from breaches of their human rights, based on unsafe and tampered with evidence.
Innocent people could find themselves wrongly on detained on remand, or living under strict bail conditions whilst suspicion hangs over them.
Even driving allegations can have a big impact on their lives and that of their families.
Courts not prepared to wait and backlog cases could dismiss them
James Vaughan, from the NPCC, has stressed that not all courts are now prepared to wait for the requests for proceedings to be adjourned, which I imagine will lead to more cases being dropped.
So, ultimately we could have a situation where the innocent are wrongly being prosecuted and under suspicion, and those guilty of crimes walk free because the evidence can no longer be relied upon, or cannot be prepared for court in time.
Alongside this, concerns have also been raised about thousands of drug test results relied on by the civil courts to determine issues such as child custody and employment cases, whilst the NPCC says a potential data manipulation is being investigated at another laboratory, potentially impacting on child protection and family court cases.
It is quite simply a disgraceful and entirely unacceptable situation which will do serious harm to public trust in our legal system.