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CPS Rape Trial Review Reveals Evidence Mishandling in 47 Cases

CPS Rape Trial Review Reveals Evidence Mishandling in 47 Cases

Review of rape cases

A CPS review of all rape and serious sexual assault prosecutions in England and Wales has revealed that vital evidence was withheld from defence lawyers in 47 cases.

The official re-examination of all 3,600 serious sexual assault cases in England and Wales was launched as an emergency precaution in January 2018, after several high-profile rape trials collapsed, due to a mishandling of evidence by prosecutors and the police.

In five cases, failure to disclose evidence to defendants was the leading reason that proceedings had to be stopped, whilst in fourteen mishandled cases, defendants had been held in police custody.

The review identified “common themes” amongst the troubled cases, including the late examination of communication evidence such as texts, emails and social media messaging, the appearance of new evidence after charges were made, and failures to identify and access medical and social services records when compiling and considering evidence.

DPP promises “sea-change” in disclosure handling, as new policies unveiled

Outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders, who will leave her role to work in private practice as a lawyer in October, apologised for mistakes made in the 47 cases.

Saunders noted that the analysis showed the CPS was prosecuting competently in “the vast majority of cases,” but acknowledged “there are cases where we are falling short – and that is unacceptable.”

“Getting disclosure right is a fundamental part of a fair criminal justice system… I recognise that the huge impact on individuals involved, and deeply regret every case where mistakes have been made,” the DPP said in a statement.

“My priority, working closely with the police, is to put in place effective measures that bring about a sea-change in how disclosure is managed so that complainants and suspects alike can have confidence that every case is fair,” she said.

Central to these changes is the new National Disclosure Improvement Plan, which proposes several new measures to strengthen disclosure proceedings in light of the recent failings.

Under the proposal, Disclosure Management Documents — which are used to give guidance on how the prosecution should approach disclosure for the court and defendant — will now be used in all rape and serious sexual offence cases.

In addition, new specially trained ‘Disclosure Champions’ will be placed across lower court CPS teams, and the College of Policing will launch new training to keep officers up to date with new disclosure practices.

Substantive changes will include new protocol for officers in determining the reasonable lines of enquiry when evaluating a potential charge before requesting the CPS to prosecute, and a new protocol for CPS and police officers to collaborate on the use of third party evidence material.

CPS underfunding and “complainant-centred” approach blamed for failings

The National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Criminal Justice, Chief Constable Nick Ephgrave, has voiced support for changes to the sexual assault charging process, acknowledging that serious errors had been made in the past.

Ephgrave stated it was “not right or fair” that “some prosecutions stopped far too late in the process, with very serious impact on the lives of those involved.”

He added that the new measures would “help to prevent this happening to others by ensuring reasonable lines of enquiry are identified early by police, prosecutors and the defence… with timely review of the material.”

Critics have faulted the government’s underfunding of the criminal justice system for the oversights and past failings, with chair of the Criminal Bar Association Angela Rafferty QC citing: “lack of investment, training and attention” as factors in the system’s flaws.

Others however have been more critical of the management of the CPS under DPP Alison Saunders’ leadership, with Criminal Bar Association board member Tana Adkin QC underlining a “complainant-centred approach rather than a justice-centred approach.”

“There has been a desire to protect the complainant, to preserve their privacy, rather than looking at the data for what it is,” Adkin asserts.

The recruitment process to find a new Director of Public Prosecutions is underway after it was announced that Saunders would be leaving her position this October.

Alex Cameron QC, barrister and brother of former Prime Minister David Cameron, is amongst those speculated to be under consideration for the appointment.

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