Police disclosure failures
The issue of disclosure in criminal cases has received a lot of press coverage over the past few months. This is due to the fact that failings in the disclosure process by the police and the CPS have led to collapsed trials and possible miscarriages of justice.
In every criminal matter that is taken to court, the police and prosecutors are required to share material in their possession with the defence if it might help the suspect's case or adversely affect the prosecution's case. This duty is engaged from the outset of criminal proceedings and is ongoing, requiring investigators to explore all lines of inquiry and to keep the relevance of prosecution material under constant review.
Although attention has been drawn to disclosure failures in recent cases involving serious crimes, such as the collapse of the trials of Mr Liam Allan and Mr Isaac Itiary who were accused of rape, the effect is also being felt in smaller trials at the Magistrates' Court.
For example, prosecutors discontinued a harassment case at Leamington Magistrates' Court in February 2018 as they failed to assess relevant evidence from the defendant's mobile phone and refused several requests to hand over the phone to the defence.
Recent disclosure failings
Rianne McCartney, a solicitor in our criminal department, recently represented a client in the Magistrates' Court whose case was dropped on the day of trial as the CPS and police had failed to produce footage from a police body worn camera along with other relevant records. After repeated requests from the defence, the prosecution had no choice but to discontinue; our client was also awarded defence costs.
We are also currently instructed in a major claim against the Serious Fraud Office concerning an unsuccessful prosecution founded on failings in disclosure procedures.
At the end of January it was announced in a joint statement from the CPS, National Police Chief's Council and College of Policing that there would be an emergency re-examination of all current rape cases to ensure that all evidence which should be disclosed has been handed over to the defence. This is due to the fact that at least four rape trials have collapsed or been dropped shortly before trial since the beginning of the year. Ideally, the same treatment should apply to all criminal cases.
The possibility of miscarriages of justice that have occurred or could occur due to withheld evidence is extremely worrying. It is possible to appeal a conviction if a verdict is "unsafe" however this is only if new material comes to light.