The media has recently been extremely scathing of the police in relation to several high profile offences – the dropping of numerous sexual offences cases due to a lack of review of key evidence, failure to disclose material that will assist the defence, and other mistakes in the investigation have led to concern about the conduct of other similar investigations. Several police forces have now ordered a review of all sexual assault investigations, leading to additional resources being taken away from front line policing.
I highly doubt the officers involved were deliberately dishonest – a far more likely cause is either a vast workload where the time for diligent review was difficult, or a lack of awareness and training in disclosure obligations. ‘Disclosure’ is actually relatively simple – all relevant material that does not form part of the prosecution case is ‘unused’, and this material is constantly reviewed to ascertain if it assists the defence or undermines the prosecution. Getting this process right involves correct case management from the outset, meticulous organisation, and a constant awareness of the issues at hand during the investigation.
It is absolutely right that a trial be conducted openly, transparently and fairly, as any conviction must be safe and built on solid foundations. We are seeing a rise in the level of private criminal prosecutions, where prosecutions are instigated and taken to court by specialist law firms without the involvement of law enforcement. However to prevent any issues at court the investigative standards of these prosecutions being bought privately must be equal to, if not higher than, the high standards set by British policing.
We believe that private criminal prosecutions is a fantastic way for victims to seek justice, when police cuts and lack of resources may otherwise have prevented this. However, we are passionate that these investigations must be conducted properly, to mitigate the potential for cases being dropped or taken to the court of appeal, which could lead to the removal of this recourse altogether.
We believe that three elements are key to these prosecutions. Firstly, having an independent investigator is crucial. Private prosecutions are still acting as ministers of justice, and therefore an investigator is duty bound to follow up all reasonable lines of enquiry, both towards and away from the suspect. Having an independent body allows the investigation to be impartial, transparent, fair, and prevent any potential argument of there being a conflict of interest.
Secondly, having an experienced team managing all unused material and disclosure obligations safeguards the client and the lawyer, and allows an independent review of all material to prevent cases being dismissed at court. This will go a long way to prevent issues of fairness being targeted in private prosecutions, with the added benefit of the victim or lawyer not being overwhelmed in material.
Thirdly, having expert former investigators who are experienced in complex investigations and prosecutions instructed from the start is important. They can offer the benefit of their training and expertise to ensure all material is gathered in a timely and proper manner, follow up all lines of enquiry using skills and experience gained over many years, and prevent evidence being deemed inadmissible. Furthermore they will ensure the smooth running of a trial and provide live evidence in court, providing a suitable degree of separation between client and lawyer.
At AnotherDay, our investigations team only employs experienced former detectives from specialist serious crime units, who can manage an investigation and prosecution from the start to reach a successful conclusion. Seeking justice when wronged should be within the reach of all, and we are here to make sure this is done correctly.