Attorney General Jeremy Wright QC has slammed police and prosecutors for their ‘basic’ errors in a number of recent collapsed rape trials, after the CPS announced a review of every case
The Attorney General has slammed police and prosecutors for their ‘basic’ errors in a number of recent collapsed rape trials, after the CPS announced a review of every case.
Jeremy Wright QC blamed underfunded services for a lack of resources, suggesting they are a ‘factor’ in recent trials where defendants had charges against them dropped when critical evidence emerged at the 11th hour.
But, crucially, those cases were primarily the result of police and prosecutor failures he said, in a damning indictment of criminal justice system competence.
A lack of resources is a ‘factor’ in disclosure failings that have led to collapsed rape trials, but police and prosecutors not acting as expected is the root cause, he said.
His words come after the Crown Prosecution Service announced it was reviewing all live rape and sexual offence cases.
The move follows a string of defendants facing rape allegations having the charges against them dropped at the last minute when new evidence came to light.
The cases have rocked confidence in the criminal justice system and Mr Wright said there was a ‘substantial problem’ with how the disclosure regime was being followed.
Mr Wright QC said he had encouraged the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, to look at similar cases to ensure no more mistakes are being made
In the lead-up to trials, police and prosecutors are required to hand over relevant material that either undermines the prosecution case or assists the defence case.
Mr Wright said disclosure was ‘basic stuff’, but that he did not believe there was evidence of ‘widespread malpractice or dishonesty’.
He said he had encouraged the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, to look at similar cases to ensure no more mistakes are being made.
But asked by John Humphrys on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme if a lack of police and CPS resources was behind the failings, Mr Wright said: ‘That’s not true. Let me simply say this to you – in relation to the Crown Prosecution Service, the number of specialist prosecutors who deal with rape and sexual offences have increased by 40% since 2015.
‘What we are talking about here is those people doing the job they are expected to do and following the disclosure regime properly – that’s what we should all expect them to do.’
He said he recognised the justice system was in a ‘new world’ as a result of the often ‘large volume’ of digital evidence, such as social media messages, and he had initiated a review into the wider disclosure regime.
But pressed again on whether cuts to the criminal justice system, such as to legal aid, were a factor, Mr Wright said: ‘I think it would be wrong to reduce this to an argument about resources – I think it’s much more fundamental than that.
‘Of course it’s a factor and you have got make sure they are people who are doing the work, but once you’ve got them they need to know what they are doing and they need to do it properly.
‘The failings in these cases have not been because there wasn’t a police officer and there wasn’t a prosecutor, it’s because they didn’t appear to be applying the regime they are expected to apply in conducting disclosure properly.’
Asked whether Ms Saunders should consider her position, Mr Wright said it was a ‘joint effort’ the responsibility of both the CPS and the police to get disclosure right.
Liam Allan, 22, was on bail for almost two years and spent three days at Croydon Crown Court in the dock before his trial was stopped yesterday – prosecutor Jerry Hayes said ‘incompetent’ police didn’t share the evidence that proved his evidence
On Friday, Ms Saunders said of the rape cases review: ‘Inevitably, bringing forward these case reviews means it is likely that there may be a number of cases which we will be stopping at around the same time.’
The CPS, National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and College of Policing also published a disclosure ‘improvement plan’.
The document commits to reviewing whether there ‘should be a requirement for officers to hold a Licence to Practise in respect of disclosure’ by January 2019.
The review into cases was announced as police and prosecutors desperately try to salvage public trust in the justice system. Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, said that a number of cases are likely to be dropped as a result of the inquiry.
It comes eight days after Oxford student Oliver Mears, 19, was cleared of rape after spending two years on bail. The CPS and Surrey Police, who handed over evidence just days before the trial, were heavily criticised for adding ‘completely unnecessary’ delays in the case.
The review comes after the collapse of the case against Liam Allan, 22, who was accused of rape – yet police were found to be withholding vital messages which proved the criminology student’s innocence.
Speaking of the review, Ms Saunders said: ‘All cases are subject to regular and ongoing scrutiny but senior prosecutors in England and Wales are currently assessing all live rape ans serious sexual assault cases to check they are satisfied that disclosure obligations have been met.’
CPS boss ‘inflated rape conviction figures and doesn’t understand how a trial works’
Britain’s top prosecutor Alison Saunders was recently accused of inflating rape conviction figures and having little idea of how rape trials work.
Ms Saunders has repeatedly come under fire over the CPS handling of sex allegations because innocent men have had their lives destroyed on the basis of spurious claims later rejected in court.
In August this year she said that men accused of rape will have more of their relationship history put under the microscope during trials in a bid to increase convictions rates.
Britain’s top prosecutor told lawyers to focus on a man’s behaviour in the run up to the alleged sex attack rather than just the immediate moments before.
But in October she was blasted by a watchdog for claiming the number of rape convictions is more than double the real figure.
She was warned that the hugely inflated figures in a report on violence against women were ‘misleading’.
And was told in a letter from the UK Statistics Authority that the true number of people convicted of rape last year was under 1,400. This is less than half the 3,000 she alleged in the report by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) earlier that month.
The huge gap is because the CPS includes crimes that were originally investigated as rapes but later downgraded to less serious offences.
She added: ‘Inevitably, bringing forward these case reviews means it is likely that there may be a number of cases which we will be stopping at around the same time.’
Mr Mears (pictured), from Horley, Surrey, appeared at Guildford crown court in August last year where he enter pleas of not guilty
Last year there were 3,671 people in England and Wales who were charged with rape, according to official figures. It is unknown how many people were charged with other serious sexual offences.
The CPS refused to say how many cases were being reviewed or how many cases may not be tried as a result of the review.
Surrey Police and the Metropolitan Police have begun their own review of all rape cases under their jurisdiction.
Former lord chief justice Lord Judge said last week that rapists would get away with their crimes due to the fact the justice system had been severely damaged in the eyes of the public due to the failings.
CPS chiefs admitted the move to review rape cases is to help heal public confidence in the judicial system.
A CPS spokesman said: ‘Disclosure issues are systematic and deep-rooted. In recent years the challenge of discharging out statutory duties has been made more difficult than ever before by the widespread use of mobile phones and other communication devices.’
Rape trial shambles is latest sex attack case to end in chaos
Leo Mahan and Thady Duff (left) were cleared of rape when it emerged detectives had ‘cherry picked’ the evidence while Bartolomeo Joly de Lotbiniere, 22, (right) was cleared of rape reported to police 14 months later
Friends Thady Duff, Leo Mahon, Patrick Foster, all 22, and James Martin, 20, were charged with gang-raping a young woman following the May Ball at the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester, Gloucestershire in 2014.
It was alleged that the violent assault was filmed, and the footage circulated via Snapchat. But the trial at Gloucester Crown Court collapsed after it emerged that detectives had ‘cherry picked’ and ‘airbrushed’ the evidence.
A study of the alleged victim’s phone revealed that she had sent nude pictures of herself to one of the men in advance of the ball and also how she had given inconsistent accounts of a ‘threesome’ she took part in at an Army barracks five months after the alleged university rape.
Shockingly, none of this material was handed over to the prosecution or defence by an investigating police officer.
Royal Agricultural University students Mahon, Foster and Duff, and friend Martin, were cleared in 2016 after the prosecution offered no evidence.
An IPCC investigation later found that detectives had no case to answer for misconduct.
Bartolomeo Joly de Lotbiniere, 22, was accused of raping a geography student at York University after a night out downing cheap spirits and alcopops. His 19-year-old accuser said his advances were unwanted and that she froze in terror as Lotbiniere, also then 19, undressed her and carried her to bed in her halls of residence.
But she only reported Mr Joly de Lotbiniere to police 14 months after the alleged attack when he appeared on television in six episodes of the BBC2 quiz show University Challenge.
After such a long passage of time there was no forensic evidence, only individual testimonies, accounts from friends and text messages.
Mr Joly de Lotbiniere insisted what had happened was a ‘two way’, consensual one-night stand, saying : ‘Drunk or sober I would never rape anybody.’ After two trials spread over seven months — the first ended in a hung jury — he was found not guilty of rape and sexual assault in September.