Minister rejects plea for public inquiry after Liam Allan disclosure failure
Senior legal figures including a former lord chief justice and former attorney-general piled pressure on ministers yesterday to act over the failings exposed in the case of Liam Allan.
Lord Morris of Aberavon, a former attorney-general, demanded a judge-led inquiry into the failure to disclose key evidence that led to the 22-year-old being acquitted of rape. The case collapsed last week after evidence emerged that demonstrated that the case should never have come to court.
In the debate in the House of Lords yesterday Lord Morris said that he had put measures in place to tackle disclosure of evidence in the late 1990s but that since the system had clearly “gone backwards”.
Lord Judge, a former lord chief justice, also questioned why Allan was on police bail for 14 months without being charged. “What on earth is the reason for that?” he asked.
They led a line-up of senior lawyers who demanded to know whether the police and Crown Prosecution Service lacked sufficient resources to fulfil their disclosure responsibilities. And the Conservative peer Lord Cormack said that there was “widespread concern at a clear near-miscarriage of justice” which would “significantly undermine public confidence”.
Baroness Chakrabarti, the shadow attorney-general, said that “early and adequate disclosure was at the heart of a fair criminal justice system” and noted that the senior prosecutor who had averted a serious miscarriage of justice last week had highlighted a lack of resources.
Lord Keen, a justice minister, rejected the idea of a judge-led inquiry. But he said there would be a joint internal review by the CPS and police “to determine what occurred in that case”.
He rejected a call by Lord Pannick, QC, of Blackstone Chambers, the cross-bench peer, to publish the full review, insisting that only the conclusions would be published, as was normal practice with an internal inquiry. However, the issue of whether resources were adequate would be part of that review, he said.
Lord Faulks, a former Conservative justice minister, raised the problem of the volume of material that now had to be disclosed, and the burden both on the prosecution to disclose all relevant material and on the defence to seek it and analyse it for the benefit of their clients.
Yesterday the chairwoman of the 4,000-strong Criminal Bar Association said in her weekly newsletter that lawyers in the Allan case should be commended. She said the circumstances in the case had “sent a chill down our spines”.