Chris Saltrese is a solicitor specialising in the defence of those accused of sexual offences. He is a member of our advisory group. He has submitted written evidence to the Justice Committee ‘Inquiry on Disclosure of Evidence’. The full submission is available here. The following are extracts from his submission summarising the problem and his recommendations.
Summary of the submission
- The problems of disclosure encountered in defending sexual offence cases are tied up with investigative failures by the police
- There is a pressing need for the implementation of the Henriques recommendations to preclude presumption, bias and an unquestioning acceptance of allegations
- The current system relies on effective investigation and recording of material in police possession without any transparency in accountability
- Failure of disclosure is linked to failure to investigate – discretion is at the behest of the police with no effective sanctions or remedies for the defence
- There is a need for thorough impartial investigation prior to charging decisions to exclude weak cases prior to prosecution
- There is a need for increased funding the Criminal Justice System particularly in relation to legal aid and the re-instatement of the defendant’s cost order in acquittals
- More efficient investigation and decision making at an early stage will produce savings offsetting additional funding for the CPS
- Investigative and disclosure standards should be subject to statutory obligation, enforcement and effective remedies for breaches.
Recommendations for changes
(i) implementation of the Henriques recommendations to ensure impartial and complete investigation in sexual offence cases. This includes examination of complainant’s computer and mobile phones where indicated and an end to the current practice of allowing the complainant to cherry pick and provide evidence as suits
(ii) thorough investigation according the CPIA code of practice prior to a charging decision
(iii) effective sanctions for failure to comply with the CPIA code and disclosure obligations to include all communications with effective remedies to acquitted defendants
(iv) training of police and CPS that includes an understanding of obligations and case strength/fragility, charging decisions and disclosure – this would include training by appropriate defence lawyers
(v) a review of the necessary funding of an efficient and just Criminal Justice System including:
- reinstating legal aid funding for the processing of unused material by the defence
- re-instating the defendant’s costs order in privately funded case acquittals.
We submit that the necessary reforms would lead to more efficient investigation and charging decisions that would reduce the number of weak cases prosecuted and thus achieve a better balance in the criminal justice system.