Twice as many cases collapsed last year because of disclosure problems compared to five years ago when justice watchdogs reported on ‘corrosive impact’ of police and prosecutors failing to hand over key evidence to the defence. The Guardian yesterday reported that 1,648 cases collapsed over disclosure failures in the last 12 months– this compares to just 916 in 2017.
Defence lawyers claimed that the the courts system were ‘at breaking point’ and the that official figures might be ‘the tip of the iceberg’. It was the Liam Allan case that brought to public attention the crisis in the disclosure regime. The case against the 22 year old criminology student, who had been charged with 12 counts of rape and sexual assault, collapsed in 2017 three days into his trial at Croydon Crown Court.
The same year two watchdog bodies, Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, found that the quality of disclosure by the police was ‘poor’ in more than four out of ten of cases (42%) and, in relation to the CPS handling, poor in one in three cases. ‘A failure to deal effectively with disclosure has a corrosive effect on the criminal justice system,’ commented HM Chief Inspector Kevin McGinty. ‘… The findings of this inspection will surprise no-one who works within the criminal justice system as there appears to be a culture of defeated acceptance that issues of disclosure will often only be dealt with at the last moment, if at all.’
The watchdogs’ findings were published on the same day as a major report into the infamous miscarriage of justice case: the Cardiff Three. Lynette White had been brutally murdered in a flat in Cardiff in 1988. The author of the report Sir Richard Horwell noted how disclosure problems had ‘blighted our criminal justice system for too long’ and that the public ‘must be utterly bemused’ as to why our justice system appears incapable of coping with a principle that was ‘long established and central to the tenets of fairness and justice’.
‘Chronic underfunding of the criminal justice system has led to understaffed and overworked police and prosecutors,’ Ed Johnston, a senior lecturer in law at the University of the West of England and co-editor of The Law of Disclosure: A Perennial Problem in Criminal Justice, told the paper. ‘We should consider taking this out of the hands of the police to allow them to concentrate on other aspects of their job.’
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