Problems with Crown Court Disclosure
When the Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders feels the need to write to a national newspaper to apologise for a prosecution failure in an individual case, something significant must have gone wrong. The failure related to Crown Court disclosure of evidential material.
So, what were the things that the prosecution and police got wrong in the case of Liam Allan?
Mr Allan was charged with multiple accusations of rape and sexual assault. This is the type of case that juries throughout the country grapple with on a daily basis. It would no doubt be a challenge for jury members in any circumstances.
Jury trial for serious sexual offences
First the jury would hear the complainant in alleging that she was a victim of serious sexual crime. The jury would then hear the position of the young man in question who had always stated that that it was all consensual.
As most sexual encounters happen in private, as lawyers we will often face cases where the case involves the word of one person against another. Can there be smoke without fire? Why would the allegation be made in the first place if untrue?
But what if the key to ‘solving’ the issue of whose account was correct was sitting in phone records that had already been obtained. All that was required was that people simply do their job. That was the situation in the case of Liam Allan.
After the alleged crime, the complainant sent a series of text messages to Mr Allan asking for more sex. The messages disclosed, in fact, that she wanted violent sex. She spoke about wanting to be raped. Even worse here, in a further round of texts, she made clear to a friend that no crime had been committed by Mr Allan.
This is the type of evidence which should hole a case below the water line, leading to the end of a prosecution. In this case it did, but only after two years. Mr Allan understandably described this period as a ‘living hell’.
Failure to disclose text messages
The sadness, in this case, is that it could have been avoided. This is because Mr Allan raised the issue of text messages in his police interview. His account was ignored. Instead, the officer in the case went on to also ignore clear guidelines on Crown Court disclosure. Although the police had the text messages he did not bring them to the attention of the prosecuting barrister.
It was only a very late intervention, three days into the trial, that uncovered what the police had known all along, that Mr Allan was innocent. So, in the end, all’s well that ends well. Commentators might argue that the system works. For Mr Allan, it will be a long time indeed before the scars of that period heal.
While we would wish to provide you with the assurance that Mr Allan’s case is a ‘one-off’, we cannot. The issue of disclosure has been a fundamental problem in the area of criminal justice for decades. This point has been illustrated by dozens of high profile miscarriages of justice.
It would appear likely that these cases must only be the tip of the iceberg. Every single day the liberty of people standing trial is put at risk due to failures within the disclosure process.
Ensure you receive proper Crown Court disclosure of evidence
Because we are acutely aware of these problems and the risks to your case of a failure of Crown Court disclosure, all of our staff work relentlessly to ensure that all relevant evidence is revealed by the police and the prosecution.
From first police disclosure, right through to trial applications, we do not rest until satisfied that cases of our clients are prepared to the very highest of standards.
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