Friday, 28 July 2017

Police: back-office cuts hurt, too

A report published ten days ago by the HMICFRS (but commissioned when it was still just Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary) jointly with the Inspectorate of Crown Prosecution Services found serious failings in the operation of disclosure by police forces. As the preamble points out:

Disclosure of unused material is a key component of the investigative and prosecution process. When conducting investigations, the police have to retain every unused item which is considered relevant to an investigation. Each item is then reviewed to see whether it is capable of undermining the prosecution or assisting the defence case. If either factor applies it must be disclosed to the defence.

If this process is not done correctly and in a timely fashion, it may result in cases being discontinued or the trial process being delayed through unnecessary adjournments thereby incurring extra cost for the justice system and causing additional emotional distress to victims, witnesses and defendants. Ultimately, the failure to properly disclose material can lead to miscarriages of justice. The Criminal Cases Review Commission tells us that disclosure failures are the basis for a significant number of cases it considers.

A notorious failure was that of the breakdown of a case against the officers whose conduct led to the false imprisonment of the Cardiff Three. It is probably not a coincidence that a QC's report of his investigation into the collapse of the Mouncher trial was published on the same day.

Richard Horwell QC rules out deliberate mislaying of evidence in Mouncher, but it seems to me that cutting back-office functions to the bone offers great opportunities to those with malign intent. Malign or not, justice is not served by sloppy work by hard-pressed, over-worked and/or poorly trained staff, which must be the result of cutting financial support to police forces.

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