BBC justice survey reveals critical failures in evidence disclosure

Author: Nick Ross

Damning results of a survey highlighting failures in disclosing evidence at criminal trials have been published by the BBC.

The report, which was commissioned by the BBC in conjunction with the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, the Criminal Bar Association and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association, follows the collapse of a number of rape trials after it emerged that evidence hadn’t been shared with defence lawyers.

Over 1,200 responses were received from criminal solicitors and barristers who raised a barrage of concerns that evidence was being withheld, leading to miscarriages of justice.

The key findings of the report revealed that failures to disclose information were evenly split between the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the police. 97% of those surveyed said they had encountered disclosure of evidence failings during the last 12 months, with 55% saying the problems were a daily or weekly occurrence.

85% said the failures had placed the defence under unreasonable logistical or time pressure, while 78% said the failures had resulted in a delayed trial. Worryingly, 56% said failures had caused a case to collapse and 44% said the failures had resulted in a denial of justice.

Perhaps most concerning of all, however, was the statistic that 33% of those who responded to the survey claimed that failures to disclose had resulted in possible wrongful conviction or miscarriage of justice.

So far, most of the publicity surrounding the issue has concerned Crown Court, but half of those surveyed claimed failings were also being committed at Magistrates' Courts, where the majority of crimes are dealt with.

Speaking of the findings, Nick Ross, a partner in Russell and Russell’s criminal law department, said: “Clearly, it’s understandable why there’s an enormous concern here. Access to a fair trial is at the very core of the criminal justice system and if people are going to prison because evidence is being withheld, it needs to be addressed urgently. The public has a right to have confidence in the system and there is no place for miscarriages of justice in a modern, progressive society.”

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