Culture and leadership to blame for criminal evidence disclosure failures, say MPs
Failures by police and prosecution authorities to disclose evidence which led to miscarriages of justice must be addressed through a shift in culture so that disclosure comes to be seen as a core justice duty, and not an administrative ‘add on’, MPs said today.
In a thorough and hard-hitting report, the Justice Select Committee raised concerns about the lack of leadership in tackling what it called ‘an issue of national importance’. Reiterating concerns raised by the Law Society during its inquiry into disclosure failures, the committee acknowledged that the failures are symptomatic of a criminal justice system under significant strain.
MPs cited the evidence from defence practitioners about the lack of remuneration for reviewing unused material and the impact of changes to the Litigators’ Graduated Fee Scheme (LGFS) in reducing payment for reviewing pages of prosecution evidence. The cuts to the LGFS are the subject of a judicial review brought by the Law Society heard at the High Court this week.
Law Society president Christina Blacklaws said: “Disclosure is fundamental to a fair trial – the very foundation of our system of criminal justice.
“Solicitors are at the heart of that system, defending, prosecuting, and upholding the rule of law. We are pleased the committee highlighted concerns about criminal legal aid, and the cuts in resources available to prosecutors as well as the police.
“We welcome the committee’s message to the government urging it to consider whether funding across the system is sufficient to ensure a good disclosure regime – one that keeps pace with modern technology.
“The committee is right to draw attention to the cost of delayed and collapsed trails resulting from disclosure errors which simply add to the strain on already tight resources.
“The extent of the problem with disclosure failings has been laid bare. Confidence in the justice system is at stake and we hope the committee’s call for clear leadership and for police and prosecution staff to be given the right resources, training and technology are heeded.”
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