The failure of the Public Prosecution Service to disclose relevant critical evidence to a defence team until immediately before a trial led to a directed acquittal in a rape trial in February 2020.
Chris McCann, a senior solicitor with Harte Coyle Collins, Solicitors & Advocates, Belfast, confirmed today that his client was acquitted this month of a rape allegation on the direction of a judge at Belfast Crown Court after critical evidence was only disclosed to the defence team the day before the trial was due to begin. The defendant had been facing the allegation for over a year.
Mr McCann said today;
” This case reinforces the importance of obtaining disclosure when preparing to defend a criminal trial. Our defence team in this case had to pursue social media and other evidence by making disclosure applications to Belfast Crown Court. The disclosure of evidence by the PPS, although received just before the trial was due to start, together defence analysis of phone evidence, prevented a miscarriage of justice. Our client was quite rightly acquitted. A defendant’s innocence and the prevention of a miscarriage of justice can turn on such disclosure. Proper defence preparation can make the difference between an innocent person being wrongly convicted and the defendant being properly acquitted.”
The problem of disclosure failures by the police and prosecution, in particular in cases involving allegations of sexual offences, have been highlighted in the past 2 years. The outgoing Chairman of the Criminal Cases Review Commission, Mr Richard Foster, said in his outgoing speech in October 2018;
“I drew attention 5 years ago in my 2012/13 annual report to disclosure failures as the continuing biggest single cause of miscarriages of justice. I repeated those concerns in subsequent Annual Reports. This led to a joint police/cps inspection into disclosure in 2017. Sadly, that report showed that our concerns were all too well founded. The report makes chilling reading. It spoke of a routine failure to comply with disclosure requirements. Disclosure issues were often only dealt with at the last minute, if at all. The situation was so bad that the Report’s authors spoke of a culture of defeated acceptance by police and prosecutors.
A particularly worrying aspect of the CPS review’s findings were the number of instances where material that was already in the prosecution’s possession when charges were brought – and which undermined the prosecution fundamentally – had still not been looked at at point of charge. Equally worrying, the CPS report points to instances where lines of enquiry which might have stopped the case in its tracks had simply not been identified by investigators at all, or if identified not followed up. This is supported by our own experience. A frequent ground of Commission referrals is a line of enquiry followed up by ourselves, which could and should have been identified by the original investigation, and which was completely missed by investigators.
What underlies this, in my view, is a widespread and worrying lack of grip by too many investigators in the basics of criminal investigation. A lack of grip which is resulting in those who should be brought to justice not being properly investigated, in trials collapsing at the courtroom door or during trial itself; and still worse convictions which prove unsafe and which were entirely avoidable.”
If our criminal defence team at Harte Coyle Collins can assist you please do not hesitate to contact us on 02890-278227.