A piece by David Brown (Chief News Correspondent) and Frances Gibb (Legal Editor), starting on the front page of today’s Times. Emphases ours.
Rapists will get away with their crimes because police and prosecution failings have undermined public confidence in the justice system, the former head of the judiciary has warned.
Juries could be deterred from convicting in future sexual assault trials because they would not have faith in evidence placed before the court, Lord Judge said. The former lord chief justice spoke out after The Times exposed how four rape trials had collapsed after crucial evidence was disclosed only at the last minute. He described the disclosure failings in all four cases as alarming and deeply troublesome.
Oliver Mears, 19, an Oxford student, was cleared of rape yesterday after spending two years on bail. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Surrey police, which handed over relevant evidence days before his trial was due, were criticised by the case judge and ordered to explain in writing the “completely unnecessary” delays.
The development came as:
• Surrey police followed Scotland Yard in reviewing all current rape cases. [J4MB: All police forces should be doing the same, then reviewing all convictions going back at least five years.]
• Police and prosecutors admitted failing to hand over vital digital evidence in a rape trial for the fourth time in a month.
• Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, faced criticism over her handling of disclosure issues.
Lord Judge, who was the most senior judge in England and Wales in 2008-13 and remains an influential judicial figure in the House of Lords, said that the failings over disclosure of evidence were “deeply worrying” because of the possible impact on juries. [J4MB: So, not worrying because innocent men are being sent to prison, and have been for years?]
“The recent examples in cases involving alleged sexual crime are alarming, both for all the individuals concerned and for public confidence in the administration of criminal justice generally,” he told The Times. “It is at least possible that from time to time juries, alarmed as everyone else by these cases, may wonder, even in an apparently strong case, whether they have been provided with all the admissible evidence. These events may reduce the prospects of conviction even when the allegation is genuine.” [J4MB: On the bright side, it will also reduce the prospects of conviction when the allegation is false.]
Delays in cases, with some suspects or defendants awaiting charge for nearly two years, were also unacceptable and caused “unnecessary suffering to all involved”, [J4MB: Other than the many women making false accusations] he said. Lord Judge called for a swift investigation into the failure to disclose evidence, and also into the delays in the charging of suspects by the CPS.
The criticisms will increase pressure on Ms Saunders, who was criticised after saying on Thursday that innocent men were not in jail, despite admitting “systemic issues” in disclosing evidence to defence lawyers. Anna Soubry, a former minister who described Ms Saunders as “part of the problem”, was supported by her fellow Tory MP Zac Goldsmith, who wrote: “The blundering CPS is responsible for a catalogue of appalling injustices.”
Ms Saunders had said that police need not check social media accounts fully when investigating allegations of rape. This is despite failures to hand over digital media being at the centre of three previous rape trial collapses, including that last month of the student Liam Allan, 22, which led to political and public concern about rape cases.
Jon Savell, Surrey police’s head of public protection, admitted yesterday that flaws in the Mears investigation included a detective failing to “examine the victim’s [J4MB: The victim here was Mears, not the complainant] digital media during the initial stages of the investigation or follow what we would consider to be a reasonable line of inquiry”. He added that the review of all the force’s rape cases was to “ensure that investigations are thorough, timely, effective and compliant with policy and guidelines”.
Yesterday Judge Jonathan Black formally found Mr Mears, from Horley, Surrey, not guilty of rape and an indecent assault. The CPS had denied on Thursday that the case had collapsed because of a “disclosure issue” but the prosecutor ordered by the judge to attend Guildford crown court to explain the decision not to offer evidence admitted that key information had not been handed over by police until last week. [J4MB: So it WAS a disclosure issue, the CPS were lying yet again.] Sarah Lindop, for the prosecution, told the judge: “This case is old and it was quite old when it came in to the hands of the CPS and I do not know the reason for that. Further material was obtained and was reviewed in a case that was finely balanced.”
Judge Black said: “It seems that if this was a case that was as finely balanced as you say it was, there have been unnecessary delays in investigating [and] what seems to be a completely unnecessary last-minute decision.
“Oliver Mears and the complainant have had this matter hanging over their heads for more than two years in circumstances that, if their investigation had been carried out properly in the first place, we would not have been in this position.”
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