CPS criticised for ‘wilful, calculated and prolonged disobedience’ in trial

The Crown Prosecution Service has once again come under fire by a top judge for failing to prepare properly for a serious trial, and for citing financial constraints as the reason for that failure.

The judge told the court that the case ‘raises serious issues about the practice of the CPS in cases where complex evidence is involved,’ and called the CPS’s actions ‘completely unacceptable’.

Recently published court records reveal that judge Peter Murphy was forced to throw out a trial for conspiracy to supply class A drugs just two days in to proceedings, after the CPS failed to prepare properly, claiming that submitting certain evidence would have a negative financial impact.

The judge’s comments are part of growing criticism of the CPS, as uncovered by the Bureau last year.

A six month investigation by the Bureau found that budget cuts had led to the CPS losing 23% of its barristers (202), 22% of its solicitors (518) and 27% (296) of its higher court advocates.

That loss in staff correlated with an increase in the rate at which homicide trials failed because the CPS provided insufficient or no evidence after a not guilty plea. This was equivalent to one in twenty homicide cases and represented a rise of 50% compared with 2010. The rate at which the CPS offers ‘no evidence’ had also risen for burglary, robbery, fraud and forgery, and criminal damage trials.

Related article: New figures reveal the CPS has lost more than 20% of its legal teams

The Bureau’s research found one senior judge describing the CPS’s performance as a ‘disgrace’, another as ‘a lamentable state of affairs’ and a third told the CPS that the court would ‘not put up with this kind of disdain’.

Now it seems the problems continue, as last November, in Blackfriars crown court, the serious drugs trial collapsed after the prosecution failed to serve the court with the evidence it intended to rely on, and then decided to give up its attempts to prosecute.
Without hearing all the evidence the judge acquitted the three defendants and they were released.

All evidence to be used in a trial must be served to the court so that both sides have a chance to review it before it is called on. In this instance the CPS wanted to introduce, what it described as a summarised version of complex raw data which had already been handed over to the defence. The judge called this ‘completely unacceptable’.

The CPS had been instructed to provide all the evidence it planned to argue on, two months before the start of the trial date. It failed to do this and applied to provide a summarised version. Murphy said this showed ‘wilful, calculated and prolonged disobedience’ on the part of the CPS.

Judge Murphy told the court: ‘What is disturbing about this is that I was told very candidly that the application by the Crown was being made primarily on financial grounds. If I am understanding that correctly, I think it means that there are financial implications in serving a large number of pages of evidence that then have to be reviewed by defence counsel.’

He went on to comment that ‘it is in my view quite wrong for [financial] considerations to stand in the way of the Crown properly complying with its disclosure obligations.’

After being told it could not submit any new evidence the CPS’s barrister Mr E. Connell told the court he would therefore offer no evidence against the defendants, effectively giving up the Crown’s attempt to prosecute.

A CPS spokesperson told the Bureau, ‘The CPS does not make a decision to discontinue or proceed with a case based on cost considerations alone. The Code for Crown Prosecutors, which lays out the principles according to which every decision to bring a prosecution must be made, states that factors relevant to the public interest of any prosecution include consideration of the cost to the CPS and the wider criminal justice system where it could be regarded as excessive when weighed against any likely penalty. This however is never a deciding factor on its own.

‘The CPS takes the Judge Peter Murphy’s comments extremely seriously and it is evident that there were problems in the way disclosure was handled in this case. Accordingly, we are reviewing the case to see what lessons can be learned from it for the future.’

Hat tip: CrimeLine.info

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