Failures in disclosure ‘playing Russian roulette’ with defendants’ lives
Failures in disclosure are ‘playing Russian roulette’ with defendants’ lives, according to the lawyer of man whose rape trial collapsed at the last minute this week. At Taunton Crown Court on Monday, the Crown Prosecution Service declared that there was no reasonable prospect of conviction in the case of a man accused of rape known as only ‘Cameron’.
‘Cameron’ spoke to Channel Four News about having to wait ‘two years and nine months’ to have the court confirm that there was no case against him. He had been charged with rape and five counts of sex with the girl. He denies ever having any sexual interaction with her. The 19-year old first came under investigation in October 2015 but was only charged 18 months later. An earlier trial collapsed last January. The two had met through Facebook and her account contained 30,000 messages which the police had not looked at. On reviewing the material, the CPS immediately withdrew their case.
Talking to the Justice Gap, his lawyer Ian Kelcey explained how the defence repeatedly asked for access to the complainant’s FaceBook account but only received the material at the very last minute. ‘The jury was sworn in, the complainant’s evidence had been given over the videolink and she was about to be cross-examined,’ the lawyer said. Apparently, she told the police about the FaceBook material as she was being taken from her home to the video booth for the cross-examination. ‘We said that we weren’t going to go ahead and cross-examine until we knew exactly what there was,’ the lawyer said. ‘We had been pressing for this for ages, so why was was it just coming out now? We did not get any real answers.’
‘It’s opened my eyes up to what is wrong with the system. It was shocking to find out that they could miss something that large,’ he told Channel Four. He had been suspended with no pay from his job with a blue chip company.
‘There was a real prospect that this man could’ve been convicted but eventually the police were forced to do their job properly,’ said Ian Kelcey. The solicitor is on the Director of Public Prosecution’s disclosure improvement forum. ‘Police officers must not take at face value what a complainant gives them. So if a complainant gives them material from text messages, for example, the police have to be bold enough to seize their phone, download everything and give it back 48 hours later. The real issue here is resources. You run the risk of having a very unfair justice system because resources are not being put in.’
What did he make of the DPP’s Alison Saunders telling Radio 4’s Today programme in January that nobody was in prison as a result of disclosure failures. ‘It was a most disgraceful comment,’ the lawyer said. ‘I am afraid I am not as complacent as that. These types of cases are very fertile ground for miscarriages of justice. If you do not dig and go behind-the-scenes, you are playing Russian Roulette with peoples’ liberty and lives.’
First published on May 23, 2018