Issues regarding cases being dropped because of failings by the police or CPS to properly disclose material to the defence continues to be highlighted in the media. A recent article in the Independent talks about a potential effect of this on justice for victims in sexual assault cases.
This article in the Independent raises a potential consequence of the failings by police and prosecutors to properly disclose material in criminal cases that have been regularly featured in the media over the last few years.
The cases highlighted have typically been rape and sexual assault cases, such as that involving Liam Allan. Mr Allan had his trial on 12 rape and sexual assault charges dropped when it was discovered that the officer in the case had failed to properly examine Mr Allen's phone, and so had missed vital evidence that ultimately exonerated Mr Allen. The Metropolitan Police have since apologised to Mr Allen and accepted that they and the CPS "did not carry out disclosure procedures properly in this case".
One potential consequence of the spotlight being quite rightly shone on these failings by police and prosecutors is the impact on complainants to such offences. Claire Waxman, the victims commissioner for London has written an article "that disclosure practice is a serious factor in deterring victims from continuing with court cases and in some instances even initially reporting to the police". The commissioner highlighted a number of rape cases where such things as the complainant applying for compensation, their sexual history or phone records were used by the defence to undermine the complainant's account.
According to the article in the Independent, the National Police Chief's Council (NPCC) have raised concerns that many CPS prosecutors and police are "asking for everything and demanding everything" from complainants. This could clearly affect the willingness of many complainants to come forward and talk to the police, or mean that those who do come forward ask for the case to be dropped rather than submit themselves to the ordeal of a trial.
Investigators in the police and other prosecution agencies need to be properly trained in their disclosure responsibilities. We have been involved in training Nottinghamshire Police and the Gangmasters Licensing and Abuse Authority officers and staff in disclosure issues and our hope and expectation is that our efforts will ultimately help a number of victims get the justice they deserve.
Every accused deserves a fair trial, and likewise each victim deserves fair treatment by the system. It is only by making sure that the system is fair and equitable, and that it does not treat either complainants or suspects unfairly that the public will have confidence in the criminal justice system, and victims will not be deterred from coming forward.