A dossier has revealed that the police routinely and deliberately conceal vital evidence in order to frustrate defendants’ cases.
The Times published the story after it received the dossier, which discloses tactics and deep seated cultural practices encouraging police to hide and withhold vital information which could undermine the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) cases. The revelation comes just as CPS Chief Alison Saunders gets ready to step down amid concerns over her leadership of the CPS.
The information was initially obtained through a Freedom Of Information Request, by a charity called the Centre for Criminal Appeals. The charity has now made all the documents publicly available on their website.
The dossier includes detailed information about how the police tamper with evidence, including information on one police force which offered training on how to avoid making material that might undermine their cases, accessible. The dossier is made up of several documents, including reports from 14 focus groups involving police, prosecutors and judges. There is also a survey of prosecutors.
The Times reports that the comments in the documents include one prosecutor who says:
“In even quite serious cases, officers have admitted to deliberately withholding sensitive material from us and they frequently approach us only a week before trial. Officers are reluctant to investigate a defence or take statements that might assist the defence or undermine our case.”
The dossier makes it clear that disclosure is not seen as a fundamental aspect of the court process, but a voluntary exercise based solely on discretion.
These kinds of tactics, though, are not limited to the police. Concealing evidence has taken on a life of its own inside the family justice system, where everything from lying to tampering with evidence is seen as fair game. Unethical and illegal actions are now so routine, that professionals from every government body engage in some form of policy or law breaking on a day to day basis. Whether it’s social workers hiding, destroying or fabricating evidence, individuals pretending to be qualified expert witnesses or lawyers using the back door to sway cases, this kind of ‘bad behaviour’ has become endemic.
Having reached crisis point, we now have to ask deeper questions about our justice systems, beyond a debate about resources and funding.
Many thanks to Maggie Tuttle for sharing this story with us.