Widespread “corrosive” failures over disclosure of evidence are occurring across the criminal justice system, risking miscarriages of justice, inspectors say today.
Police are routinely failing to comply with the requirements to list all undisclosed evidence in sufficient detail to enable prosecutors to decide if it should be disclosed to the defence, their report finds. More than one in five lists or schedules of unused evidence were “wholly inadequate”, the inspectors for the Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) and Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary (HMIC) say in their joint report.
In some cases involving sensitive evidence, potentially undermining material was only disclosed late or not at all “in circumstances where a miscarriage of justice was only narrowly avoided”. One drugs supply case involved sensitive material that was detrimental to the prosecution case, but only came to light at trial, causing the case to be dismissed.
In another prosecution involving sexual offences, previous allegations by the victim and counselling notes that undermined the case were not revealed to the prosecutor by the police. Again, they only came to light at trial, leading to the case being discontinued.
In relation to unused non-sensitive material, inspectors found that “officers clearly lacked understanding of the rationale for providing good descriptions of items” in more than 67 per cent of cases. They often “simply listed the item rather than explaining its content to assist the prosecutor in discharging their responsibilities under the disclosure test”.
Kevin McGinty, the chief inspector of the CPS, said the findings would “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”. He went on to say that if the police and CPS were “ever going to comply fully with what the law requires of them by way of disclosure, then there needs to be a determined cultural change”.
Wendy Williams, the inspector of constabulary, said police recording “of both sensitive and non-sensitive material was lacking, which creates uncertainty and confusion for prosecutors. In turn, this poor practice was not being challenged by the CPS”.