February 01 2012
The CPS 'Stop Delaying Justice' initiative can be helped by better visibility of forensic issues at the start of the trial process.
For example, early questions requesting confirmation of any forensic evidence the prosecution have, what forensic examinations are proposed and a full list of seized exhibits and samples are appropriate. Defence lawyers should not be left guessing what exhibits might exist and what the police have which might assist the defence. A little expert advice at this stage could then resolve whether any scientific examinations should be conducted for the defence.
Whilst there is little history of early CPS disclosure, in a fair system there is no practical reason why the Court's Criminal Procedure Rules' obligation to actively manage cases should not favourably consider these requests. There should be no place for disclosure of unexpected forensic evidence close to the second hearing, leaving the other side a choice of continuing without expert advice or seeking an adjournment. In the current environment, in which Police Scientific Support do just enough to justify a charge and rarely sanction work to examine other hypotheses, early CPS disclosure is more important than ever. It is, after all, the expressed intent of the CPS that "fairness must be at the heart of the approach" (Chief Prosecutor for London, Ms Alison Saunders).
The Criminal Procedure Rules require identification of the disputed issues for the Court (Crim PR3.3(a)) at the start. CPS compliance with a few simple requests for information, ordered by the court at the first hearing if necessary, should enable expert forensic advice to be part of that process and its resolution.
Dr Duncan Woods, Chief Scientist at Keith Borer Consultants