- Rapes cases in England and Wales are being reviewed over lack of evidence sharing.
- Police and prosecutors must disclose evidence that might help the defence or harm the prosecution in the lead-up to a criminal trial.
- However, a number of recent cases have been dropped after evidence already seen by police emerged.
Every rape case in England and Wales is set to be reviewed over a lack of evidence shared in a number of previous trials, according to the BBC – and it could mean that some cases get dropped.
The site reported that all “current rape and serious sexual assault cases” will be reviewed “as a matter of urgency” in order to ensure evidence is being shared by police and prosecutors, who must disclose evidence that might help the defence case or harm the prosecution’s case in the lead up to a criminal trial.
A number of recent rape cases have been dropped due to evidence – particularly digital evidence – not being shared with defence lawyers – and the number has increased by 70% in the last two years. This involevs “potentially key information taken from mobile phones, computers, and social media” not being shared.
Most recently, a rape charge against Oxford University student Oliver Mears was dropped the night before his trial after a diary which supported his case was uncovered, according to the BBC.
Back in December, 12 counts of rape and sexual assault were dropped against Liam Allan when messages from the alleged victim asking for “casual sex” emerged – and they had already been seen by police.
Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders said the disclosure issues were “deep-rooted and systemic,” adding: “Changes in society, such as the vastly increasing use of social media and mobile phone messaging, bring challenges that all parts of the criminal justice system, despite the resourcing challenges, must deal with.”
An “improvement plan” is reportedly being put into place by The Crown Prosecution Service, National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), and College of Policing, which will review disclosure training and develop specialist disclosure experts in every force.
“We are taking steps to identify any individual cases of concern as a matter of urgency,” Saunders said.
According to Sky News, Saunders admitted that more cases will be dropped because of these issues.
“Inevitably, bringing forward these case reviews means it is likely that there may be a number of cases which we will be stopping at around the same time,” she said.
However, Chief Constable Nick Ephgrave of the NPCC said that disclosure of evidence has “too often been seen as an administrative task completed at the end of an investigation,” adding that problems have been “exacerbated by the rapid expansion of digital material involved in almost every case.”
“We now need to firmly embed disclosure in the investigative mindset from the outset of any investigation,” he said. “Reviews of recent cases have shown a range of issues leading to failures but there has been no intention by officers to conceal information.”
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