Disclosure failures an ‘every day’ experience in the Magistrates’ court

It was revealed that 97% of criminal defence lawyers encountered disclosure failures in the last year. According to a survey for the BBC’s File on 4 programme, more than 1,000 lawyers experienced such failures. Of 1,282 respondents, close to a third said they believed that evidence not being disclosed had led to miscarriages of justice. The research drew on response from the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, the Criminal Bar Association and the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association.

The programme focused on disclosure in the Magistrates’ court. ‘The vast majority of criminal cases start and end their lives in the Magistrate’s court,’ said Bill Waddington of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association. ‘That is where most criminal work is done. That makes these figures even more astonishing.’ More than half of respondents claimed to experience such problems on a weekly or daily basis.

The programme follows the collapse of a series of trials following the Liam Allan case just before Christmas (here).

The Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders and Nick Ephgrave, National Police Chief’s Council lead for criminal justice, wrote to the BBC ahead of the programme being aired to complain that the research contained ‘a number of fundamental flaws’ which were ‘likely to give a skewed view’ of what was happening. In particular, they argued that the survey failed to make the ‘crucial distinction between the provision of evidence on the one hand and the disclosure of unused material on the other’.

Director of legal services at the CPS Greg McGill said that disclosure was ‘a problem facing the whole of the criminal justice system’. ‘Can we put this in context: a conviction rate in the Magistrates’ court of almost 85%, and a plea in first instance at 78% is not indicative of a system in crisis. That isn’t to say there aren’t things we could  do better.’

‘The system clearly isn’t working,’ commented the CLSA’s Bill Waddington ‘It kills the rumour that these problems only happen in the occasional big case that reaches the headlines. The reality of it is that it is an every day, every week problem.

About Jon Robins

Jon is a journalist and has written about the law and justice for the national papers and specialist press for more than 15 years. Jon is a visiting journalism lecturer at Winchester University, a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln and patron of Hackney Community Law Centre. He has won the Bar Council’s legal reporter of the year award twice (2015 and 2005). Jon is editor and co-founder of LegalVoice

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