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Monday March 6 2000
Reporter Tessa Mayes
Producer Rabinder Minhas

Last week, the CPS Inspectorate published a report entitled 'The Thematic Review of the Disclosure of Unused Material'.

In a survey of 631 cases, the Inspectorate found that evidence written on 1 in 3 police forms was in insufficient detail or omitted. And a survey of barristers last year by the Criminal Bar Association and The British Academy of Forensic Sciences discovered over 200 cases involving problems of disclosure

Panorama speaks to innocent people accused of serious crimes whose defence case was hampered by disclosure problems.
Gerry Conlon
For Gerry Conlon, one of the Guildford Four who was imprisoned for 15 years until his conviction for murder was declared 'unsafe', the lessons of his case do not seem to have been learnt.

A witness statement confirming Conlon's alibi was never disclosed by the prosecuting authorities to his defence. He believes the present system makes miscarriages of justice more likely. 'When we got out it rocked the Establishment to its foundations,' says Conlon. 'But I think they got some real good builders in to put it back together. They're making it more secret, more sinister.' He warns: 'How many people are sitting in prison today in the same position I was in?'
Jack Read
Jack Read, a pub landlord, was accused of punching a man at a Christmas party three years ago. The prosecution claimed he broke the man's jaw. Several members of the victim's family claimed to have seen Read attack the man.

However Read, 54, said the family had an argument so he asked them to leave. He locked the pub doors behind them and went to bed.

Yet Read was arrested and charged with grievous bodily harm. Despite having no criminal convictions, he spent the following 15 months waiting trial worried about a possible conviction for up to three years.

But Read's charge of GBH wasn't his only problem; the defence solicitor had difficulty getting hold of evidence important for his case. Two officers had been called out to the disturbance that night. Police records of the incident were mentioned to the defence but were never handed it over.

Details of what the police officers were told by witnesses after the Christmas party were never passed on. Until the trial in March 1999, Read and his solicitor were unaware of the significance of this evidence for the case. Finally the log was given to the lawyers by the prosecution barrister at court. It confirmed Jack's version of events. The log stated:

'This was a domestic between father and son.' In court, the two police officers said that witnesses had agreed it was a domestic dispute. Read was acquitted.

Such cases are causing concern among the legal profession who say the present legislation governing the disclosure of evidence is undermining a right to a fair trial. They claim Britain could be on the brink of a new era of miscarriages of justice as innocent people are not getting evidence they're entitled to.

The current discloure law

Under the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996:

  • The police and the Crown Prosecution Services (CPS) decide what evidence the defence has access to.
  • The police make an initial assessment of what evidence undermines the prosecution case.
  • CPS lawyers make a further judgement and decide what should be disclosed to the defence.
  • The defence can request evidence they wish to see only if they write a Defence Statement providing details of their case.
    Brent Reid
    Brent Reid was charged with threatening behaviour at an animal rights demonstration in Reddich in August 1998. He was found guilty under Section 4 of the Public Order Act on 21 June 1999. A police video showing Reid being arrested was used as evidence against him.

    However Reid showed the video to a new solicitor for his appeal. He noticed that it showed a second police officer in the background using a video camera.

    The solicitor asked the police to disclose the second video. A copy has never been sent.

    Yet the CPS received a copy of the video and decided not to oppose the appeal. Brent Reid continues to ask the CPS for the second video.

    Under the CPIA (1996) the police work hand in hand with the CPS to ensure disclosure requirements are met. It's not always easy to know whether delays in providing evidence are due to police or CPS staff because both have responsibilities under the rules.

    As the discussion about the reform or eradication of the present legislation on disclosure continues, how many innocent people are being denied evidence which is harming their right to a fair trial?

    Related links:
    Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act

    Forensic Science Society

    Criminal Cases review commission

    Crime Prosecution Service

    The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

    Brent Reid and Intro
    WATCH CLIP: Programme intro. and Brent Reid; convicted for threatening behaviour. He discovered undisclosed evidence
    Gerry Conlon
    WATCH CLIP: Gerry Conlon, one of the Guildford four. Important evidence wasn't disclosed. He spent 15 years in prison.

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