Thousands of criminal cases will be reviewed in an unprecedented inquiry into racist and sexist practice in the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
The re-examinations could lead to fresh charges against dozens of defendants and thousands of claims for compensation brought by people alleging prejudicial prosecutions.
David Calvert-Smith QC, head of the CPS, told The Independent that the review of 12,000 cases would determine how far decisions have been "infected" by the racist or sexist attitudes of crown prosecutors in England and Wales.
Last night a spokeswoman for the CPS said that "where there was serious cause for concern", defendants in cases found to have been dropped for racist or sexist reasons might be prosecuted a second time.
Mr Calvert-Smith, in his first newspaper interview since the publication last month of a highly critical independent report by the barrister Sylvia Denman into racism in the CPS, insisted that details of the cases under review would generally remain secret.
The huge exercise, to be announced today, has been undertaken because the Denman report asserted that racist attitudes within the CPS may have led to disproportionate numbers of black and Asian people being taken to court.
Mr Calvert-Smith said outside consultants would be brought in to review a cross-section of recent closed cases. The findings, which he said would take up to 18 months, will be used to help to identify parts of the country and types of offences where CPS lawyers may have acted with subconscious racism. However, if an individual prosecutor was found to have acted with overt racism or sexism, disciplinary action would be taken, he said.
But civil liberties and race groups saidlast night that people had a right to be told of "secret" findings in their favour.
The director of the civil rights group Liberty, John Wadham, said victims should be able to use the results of the review to support court actions.
Raj Joshi, chairman of the Society of Black Lawyers and head of the CPS's European and international policy directorate, said it was "outrageous" that the DPP would not tell people if their case had been affected by bias. Maurice Frankel, director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, said that under the forthcoming Freedom of Information Act people would have a good chance of forcing the CPS to tell them the results of the review.Reuse content