The Crown Prosecution Service: Gatekeeper of the Criminal Justice System - Justice Committee Contents


Memorandum submitted by David Marriott

  There are two aspects of the CJ process which I think we've got wrong. And they reveal themselves time and time again when miscarriages of justice finally come to light.

  The first is the relationship between the police and the Crown prosecutors, which seems way too close and mutually supportive. The CPS gets intimately involved at an early stage of investigations and often actively drives police to search for particular evidence that helps compile a case for the prosecution. I know there are arguments that say that this kind of relationship ensures fewer failed prosecutions, but is it at the cost of more wrongful convictions? In my view the police should investigate, follow all the leads, collect all the facts and pass them to the CPS for them to decide whether there is enough evidence to prosecute someone, with a clear dividing line between the roles of investigator and prosecutor. The way it currently works makes the police the evidence-gathering agency for the prosecutor's office. We don't know if the CPS were aware of the evidence in the Gilfoyle case which was never passed to the defence, but I wouldn't be surprised if that was actually the case.

  The second aspect is the role of the "expert witness". In principle the "expert" is there to provide the court with technical explanations of evidence that an ordinary member of the jury couldn't be expected to understand. He is not there to offer opinions about anything else. But all too often the expert appears to bat for one side, and rather than serving the court he appears to serve the side which has hired him. There are some individuals who now make a career out of being an expert witness and will routinely be hired by either prosecution or defence to provide the testimony they require. With so many serious cases turning crucially on the evidence the expert witnesses, I think there needs to be some regulation to break the link between remuneration and giving evidence helpful to one side or the other. Perhaps a "stable" of experts could be kept on file and where the court deemed it necessary, one could be called, as the next cab on the rank, to provide expert testimony for the court about technical evidence. Being hired by the court rather than by one or other legal team would reinforce the expert's impartiality. It might also reduce the costs and complexity of a lot of cases that currently rely on expert witness testimony.

March 2009





 
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