Police, Plebgate, Austerity and the Pursuit of Justice

by Ray_North on October 16, 2013

images-2Hmmm, may have to rethink the title of this piece – it sounds a bit like the title for an album by some Prog-rock band – but, I wanted to pen a few words about these subjects which have all, loosely formed an orderly queue in my head.

It all started with an incident at a criminal trial I was recently involved in involving disclosure. Now for those of you who are not familiar with the rules of disclosure in Criminal Cases, they’re quite straightforward – the Police will investigate a matter and then sift through all the evidence that they’ve acquired and disclose in the first instance all the material that they rely upon to the defence. The documents that they don’t rely upon form, what is known as a schedule of unused material – the Police and the CPS are then under a duty to go through this material very carefully and disclose to the defence any material that might ‘undermine the prosecution case, or assist the defence.’

Now, in this recent trial – which involved allegations of a serious sexual nature that would have seen my client imprisoned for a long time if he had been convicted, both I had my instructing solicitor had looked through the schedule of unused material and asked for various things and been told that they weren’t going to disclose them because they didn’t pass the test. Fair enough. If that is what I’m told, then that is what I have to accept, unless it is so obvious that there are documents that should have been disclosed that I have sufficient cause to go before a Judge. Amazingly, during the trial (thankfully not afterwards) it became known to me that the Crown had failed to disclose evidence that showed that a witness had given an account to the police the day after the alleged incident that, pretty much exonerated my client. I went ballistic – well, I got a bit cross, I try to avoid ballistic in Court if I can. More importantly the Judge was cross as well and ordered an explanation for the oversight – upon which a number of excuses were proffered, including, and I kid you not, the suggestion that cuts to the CPS and police budgets, meant that they were wary of using too much paper and so the culture now was to cut down on the amount of material that they disclose.

What!

So, my client, who was acquitted, could have been convicted because the CPS and the Police didn’t want to exceed their stationery budget. Ludicrous. In fact, dangerously ludicrous.

Of course, there is the possibility that the failure to disclose was due to an overly-zealous prosecutor or police officer, who was striving for a conviction and realised that the material he was sitting on was unhelpful to his case, but, I doubt that, more likely, is the fact that the CPS is now so under-staffed and over-worked that the person who would once upon a time have reviewed the schedule of unused material, has long been moved to another department or made redundant, or is doing the job or three people – and as such the oversight was, simply that – cock up as a result of constraints of time, rather than conspiracy.

But, the possibilities of what might have happened to my client if the oversight hadn’t been ‘accidentally’ discovered, are just terrifying, and beg the question how many other cases are being compromised because of lack of resources and man power?

Which brings me on to my next subject – the Police and Plebgate.

This is not a good week for the coppers – it is vital that we can trust them. The idea that they colluded to undermine an elected politician and Minister of the Crown (regardless of what a twat he is), is really worrying.

But, what amazes me, is that the police officers involved have remained anonymous throughout this process, as have the officers who shot and killed Mark Duggen at the inquest into his death.

Now, I’m not a big one for naming and shaming, nor am I a particular advocate of anonymity for those accused of crimes – but, my client in the above case, who was acquitted without a stain on his name of serious sexual offences against a child, had his name plastered all over his local newspapers and will now face the hostile court of local public opinion where the old adage ‘there’s no smoke without fire’ will probably see him have to leave his home. So, why are the Police Officers who were involved in Plebgate afforded that protection? I am open to being persuaded to the contrary, but I can see no professional or personal reason why a police officer should remain anonymous.

It makes me cross. There, now back to work and the pursuit of justice and all that (alright, I’m on Facebook).

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

George_East October 16, 2013 at 10:52 am

Presumably because the police offices haven’t been charged with anything and names aren’t released until that point. Until then its just a 43 year old white male helping the police with their enquiries?

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David Blythin October 16, 2013 at 12:09 pm

Gareth, what do you think would’ve happened in your case (before and during trial) if the defendant had not been represented by you, but by an underqualified and inexperienced advocate, as appears to be the Government’s direction of travel on representation?

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Ray_North October 16, 2013 at 3:25 pm

David, I think that’s right – at the risk of sound pompous and self-satisfied, there is no substitute for experience during the Courtroom experience – I often think of it as being a bit like rugby, you can teach someone the offside laws from a book, but if you’ve watched the game or played it for years, you instinctively know when something is not quite right.
Saying that though, on this occasion, the omission was discovered by a fluke as much as anything done by me or my very experienced and able instructing solicitor – who normally sniffs out things like that from a great distance.

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