As we head into the new year, Watson Woodhouse have been looking at the events of 2017 to highlight changes that need to happen to the criminal justice system in 2018. We could not ignore the events that happened earlier this month in South London when two rapes cases collapsed due to apparent failings of the police in complying with disclosure requirements. The judge in the case called for an urgent review into disclosure at the Metropolitan Police. The outcome of which we hope will shape the criminal justice we are entering into in 2018, although issues similar to this have been highlighted for many years with no apparent changes made so far. Hopefully the vast coverage this case has received will help in sculpting these changes. Watson Woodhouse have been discussing their views on this area of law and highlighting why this aspect is hugely important to any criminal case.
The case of Liam Allen a university student who was accused of rape, had his case dropped after it was revealed that police had belatedly disclosed phone messages from the Complainant that strongly undermined the prosecution’s case and the Complainant’s account of what had happened. Allen’s ordeal went on for 2 years, and could have been avoided if the police complied with their responsibilities of disclosure. The “golden rule” is that fairness requires that full disclosure should be made of all material held by the prosecution that weakens its case or strengthens that of the defence.
A case can only be brought before the Court if it satisfies both stages of the full code test in the Code for Crown Prosecutors. That is, that there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction and that a prosecution is required in the public interest. In the case of Allen, his case would have almost certainly have fallen at the first hurdle if the police disclosed the text messages they had, due to it being highly likely that the prosecutors would not have found there to be sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction. The prosecuting barrister on the case labelled it the most appalling failure of disclosure he had encountered.
The reasoning why the messages were not disclosed is unclear. The prosecutor in the case of Allen said “The CPS are under terrible pressure, as are the police. Both work hard but are badly under-resourced… Because of the swingeing cuts that the Treasury continuously imposes, the system is not just creaking, it is about to croak.” Mr Allen’s case is a clear example of what will happen when the system does croak. Not only was he on police bail for 2 years, he also potentially faced up to 12 years in prison and life on the sex offenders register had he been found guilty of this offence. An offence which he did not commit. An innocent man going to jail is the biggest miscarriage of justice and as rightly said by Mr Allen himself “Lessons need to be learnt.”
The judge in the case called for an urgent review into disclosure by the metropolitan police and also an inquiry into disclosure at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). This is a review which is long awaited and as a large criminal law firm we eagerly anticipate the result. Moreover, this result casts doubt onto the successful convictions which have gone before it. A second case collapsed earlier this week of Isaac Itiary, after material was not given to the defence team until his lawyers asked for it.
However, it must be noted that it is not just rape and sexual offence cases that are failing in regards to fair disclosure. A report in July this year concluded that the police did not properly disclose evidence in four out of ten crown court cases, resulting in collapsed trials and people’s lives tarnished by the failings of the police. This can be as little as something irrelevant to the case, or like in Mr Allen’s case something which wholly undermines the case against the accused.
At Watson Woodhouse we have recognised this issue and that is why we have a team dedicated to exploring disclosure and reviewing unused material to ensure that our clients never come close to having the same fate as Isaac and Allen. Although the CPS and police are under a duty to disclose material that either weakens their case or strengthens the defence’s case, the solicitors in Mr Allen’s case should have been more proactive in demanding the messages.
It cannot be ignored that although police gather the evidence the decision to disclose is made by CPS lawyers. It appears that Mr Allen has been grossly let down by the criminal justice system. From the police to the CPS, but moreover by austerity measures. The one regime which is designed to protect its people has instead made cuts to legal aid, to the local police forces and to the CPS. It’s inevitable these inexcusable miscarriages will happen when every part of the criminal justice system is reaching breaking point! The only saving grace in this case was the prosecuting barrister who demanded the messages to be disclosed.
As mentioned previously, here at Watson Woodhouse we have a dedicated and experienced team of case progression officers whose sole job is to look at the evidence in the case and chase the CPS and police for disclosure. This means that if you instruct Watson Woodhouse not only will your solicitor thoroughly examine the case against you, the evidence will also pass through our case progression department for thorough examination and scrutiny. We are a pro-active firm and will not wait for material to be disclosed to us, instead we actively chase the material and pass the evidence through a rigorous examination to ensure we avoid any miscarriages of justice.
This is a tried and tested method which we have been using at Watson Woodhouse Solicitors for many years and we have every confidence that this method avoids any miscarriages of justice for our clients. If you believe you have fallen victim to a possible miscarriage of justice, or would like some advice regarding an ongoing investigation you are involved in please contact our criminal defence team and we will ensure that what has happened to Mr Allen and Mr Itiary never happens to you.