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CPS Inspector Finds Disclosure Failings in Half of Criminal Cases

CPS Inspector Finds Disclosure Failings in Half of Criminal Cases

Police mistakes in investigations

An inspection from HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) reveals that police and prosecutors are failing to correctly disclose evidence in nearly half of criminal trials.

Police fully complied with legal obligations to disclose unused evidential material in just 57% of cases, doing so in only 734 cases out of 1,290 reviewed. Officers at least partially complied with their duties in 37% of remaining cases, leaving 6% of cases in which disclosure duties were not at all met by police.

The sample of 1,290 criminal cases considered by the inspectorate was small given the estimated two million cases heard in the magistrates’ and crown courts each year. However, the HMCPSI maintains that those selected were representative of the regions examined.

In addition to its findings on police failings, the inspectorate found that prosecution lawyers’ compliance was “not much better than that of the police” – with all requirements met in just 58% of cases. The prosecuting agency watchdog’s report showed “limited evidence” of prosecution lawyers either identifying police failures in evidential compliance or reporting these instances back to the police.

IBB Solicitors’ criminal defence expert, Eddie Tang, commented:

“Disclosure failings are a gateway for travesties of justice to manifest which in turn undermines the confidence in the Criminal Justice System. Justice must be seen to be done”.

Multiple cases collapse due to undisclosed evidence

In a separate, annual report for 2017-18, the HMCPSI noted that “in most areas there was a weakness with the CPS’ handling of disclosure.”

The watchdog faults consistent shortcomings in “timeliness of review and case progression” adding that such failings can have a “direct effect on the victim and witness experience, which can ultimately affect public confidence in the criminal justice system as a whole.”

Shortcomings highlighted in the inspectorate’s review included inadequate descriptions of items on unused material schedule – the main issue flagged in 42% of cases – as well as incorrect listing or improper address of witnesses’ prior convictions.

Continuing disclosure was better handled, with full standards met in 65% of applicable cases.

Eight out of 429 cases regarded as ‘complete’ failures – i.e. those prosecutions that collapsed at either initial or continuing stages – collapsed due to evidential material that was not disclosed for the entirety of proceedings; either wholly undermining the prosecution’s case or at least assisting the defence.

These eight “complete” failures on the basis of undisclosed evidence did not lead to any miscarriages of justice, according to the HMCPSI.

Watchdog and parliamentary reports cast doubt on CPS’ own findings

The damning report from the watchdog comes after the CPS itself issued a review into disclosure practices in all live rape and serious sexual assault prosecutions.

The internal review followed a string of high profile rape trials in which failures to properly disclose evidence led to charges against defendants collapsing at late stages of cases. In that review, the CPS found disclosure failings in just 1.3% (47 out of 3,637) of live rape and serious sexual assault cases from a six-week period.

The prosecuting agency attributed shortcomings to the CPS’ own case management system in just five (0.1%) of these instances.

However, a report from the House of Commons justice select committee has since criticised these results, suggesting that the CPS may have underestimated failings by 90%.

The parliamentary committee concluded this July that disclosure failures had been rife in the criminal justice system for years, but had gone unresolved due to “insufficient focus and leadership” from senior officials.

Finding fault with Alison Saunders, the outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions, the MPs’ report stated: “The director has not acted as quickly and proactively as required” to address disclosure issues, “and this…has permeated throughout the organisation.”

A spokesperson for the CPS said that the prosecuting agency was “working with police and partners across the criminal justice system to bring lasting improvements to the way we handle disclosure,” adding that “a number of measures” were “already in place.”

Max Hill is appointed DPP

Max Hill QC has been appointed as the new Director of Public Prosecutions. He will take up the £204,000-a-year position on November 1st.

Mr Hill said:

“This is a challenging time for the CPS, with the rise in complex cases and negative publicity about its handling of disclosure in some cases. I have seen first-hand the sterling work of the CPS and I am determined to restore public trust in all of its work.”

Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, said: “Mr Hill is a distinguished and extremely experienced Queen’s Counsel who has demonstrated a profound commitment both to the criminal justice system and to public service. I am very grateful to him for taking on these onerous responsibilities.”

Contact our criminal defence experts today

We have one of the leading teams of defence solicitors in West London and the South East. If you are facing a serious criminal charge, you can contact a member of the IBB’s Criminal Defence team. Call us today on 0330 999 4999 for immediate emergency representation. Alternatively please email criminaldefence@ibblaw.co.uk.