Letter: Justice depends upon disclosure

Share
Related Topics
Sir: You report (23 December) that the Association of Chief Police Officers has complained about the 'unacceptable' demands by defence solicitors for disclosure of documents, and particularly for details on informants. You quote the Chief Constable of Hampshire as saying: 'The present blanket disclosure is costly and not in the broad interests of justice.'

While understanding the concerns of the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions, who has expressed a similar view, we must not lose sight of why these new rules were developed. We do accept that the law needs to be clarified, and have done so in our evidence to the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice. However, it is unlikely that we would want it 'clarified' in the same direction.

In virtually all of the more famous miscarriages of justice - particularly in the cases of the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and Judith Ward - the fact that the defence solicitors were not given all the relevant documents had a substantial effect on the trial and contributed to the wrongful convictions.

The Lord Chief Justice's decision in the Ward case imposed a high but proper duty on the police and the prosecution to disclose documents, but even in that case the Court of Appeal accepted that there should be exceptions. These exceptions, based on the infamous concept of 'public interest immunity' are now, following the Matrix Churchill case, under attack. Nevertheless, the protection of informants has always been, and remains today under the new rules, a ground to refuse complete disclosure to the defence.

There will always have to be a balance between the rights of the defendant and the need to protect informants. The danger of non- disclosure is that crucial information will not be disclosed and, as a result, innocent people will be convicted.

The defence cannot rely on the prosecution to sift through for these nuggets of information because they will not know the details of the defence case. Equally, the defence cannot know without reading the material whether it is likely to be of use.

The choice of using informants is often made by the police themselves. Until fairly recently the use of informants was frowned upon by the courts and the evidence not admissible at all. The police will now have to reconsider their apparent policy of making an increased use of informants and will need to balance this against the 'broad interests of justice'.

In a few cases the police will have to discontinue a particular prosecution in order to protect their sources, but that is the price we have to pay for a fair criminal justice system where the innocent have a good chance of acquittal.

Yours faithfully,

J. WADHAM

Legal Officer

Liberty: National Council

for Civil Liberties

London, SE1

23 December

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Ashdown Group: Head of IT - Hertfordshire - £90,000

£70000 - £90000 per annum + bonus + car allowance + benefits: Ashdown Group: H...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: Outgunned by a lack of military knowledge

Guy Keleny
Ukip leader Nigel Farage in Tiny Tim’s tea shop while canvassing in Rochester this week  

General Election 2015: What on earth happened to Ukip?

Matthew Norman
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions
Major medical journal Lancet under attack for 'extremist hate propaganda' over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Lancet accused of 'anti-Israel hate propaganda' over coverage of Gaza conflict

Threat to free speech as publishers of renowned medical journal are accused of inciting hatred and violence
General Election 2015: Tories and Lib Dems throw their star names west to grab votes

All noisy on the Lib Dems' western front

The party has deployed its big guns in Cornwall to save its seats there. Simon Usborne heads to the heart of the battle
How Etsy became a crafty little earner: The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?

How Etsy became a crafty little earner

The online market has been floated for £1.2bn, but can craft and capitalism coexist?
Guy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle King Arthur - one of our most versatile heroes

King Arthur is inspiring Guy Ritchie

Raluca Radulescu explains why his many permutations - from folk hero to chick-lit hunk - never cease to fascinate
Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations for the man or woman on the street?

Apple Watch: Will it live up to expectations?

The Apple Watch has apparently sold millions even before its launch tomorrow
Don't fear the artichoke: it's a good cook's staple, with more choice than you'd think

Don't fear the artichoke

Artichokes are scary - they've got spikes and hairy bits, and British cooks tend to give them a wide berth. But they're an essential and delicious part of Italian cuisine
11 best men's socks

11 best men's socks

Make a statement with your accessories, starting from the bottom up
Paul Scholes column: Eden Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo

Paul Scholes column

Hazard would be my Player of the Year – but I wonder if he has that appetite for goals of Messi or Ronaldo
Frank Warren: Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal

Frank Warren's Ringside

Tyson Fury will be closely watching Wladimir Klitschko... when he wins it'll be time to do a deal
London Marathon 2015: Kenya's brothers in arms Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto ready to take on world

Kenya's brothers in arms take on world

Last year Wilson Kipsang had his marathon record taken off him by training partner and friend Dennis Kimetto. They talk about facing off in the London Marathon
Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad but it's not because I refuse to fly

Natalie Bennett interview: I've lost track of the last time I saw my Dad

Green leader prefers to stay clear of her 'painful' family memories but is more open about 'utterly unreasonable' personal attacks
Syria conflict: Khorasan return with a fresh influx of fighters awaiting the order to start 'shooting the birds'

Khorasan is back in Syria

America said these al-Qaeda militants were bombed out of the country last year - but Kim Sengupta hears a different story
General Election 2015: Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North for Ukip?

On the campaign trail with Ukip

Is William Cash the man to woo Warwickshire North?
Four rival Robin Hood movies get Hollywood go-head - and Friar Tuck will become a superhero

Expect a rush on men's tights

Studios line up four Robin Hoods productions