I never blog on cases, but today I must break my rule. Yesterday I discovered a scandalous state of affairs which could have led to an innocent man going to jail for a substantial period of time. I will not name the defendant nor the court for obvious reasons. In forty years of practice at the bar this shook my faith in what was once the finest and fairest justice system in the world. Read this and weep. And mourn for British justice.
Yesterday I was sent to the Crown Court to offer no evidence in a firearms case. I had been instructed some weeks ago as Prosecution counsel. Let me give you a thumbnail sketch. Last year the police searched a van. In this van was a tool box and in this tool box were founds guns and ammunition. This comprised of an 8mm blank firing pistol converted to be a lethal weapon. An empty magazine belonging to that hand gun. A Glock self loading hand gun. The magazine from this handgun contained two live rounds. And three further live rounds were found in a knotted bag. It goes without saying that the possession of these items is a very serious offence and carries a minimum sentence of five years for the guns and a consecutive sentence for the ammunition. Anyone convicted potentially faces a sentence of imprisonment of seven years upwards.
The guns and ammunition were forensically examined. The laboratory gave the police what is called a Streamlined Forensic Report (SFR). It came to this conclusion, ‘a match exists between the defendant and the sample’. In other words the defendant’s DNA was found on one of the magazines.
This was served on the CPS and duly uploaded onto the digital case system, effectively serving this on the court and the defence. An SFR is precisely that, and both prosecution and defence are entitled to see the full report. But very often it is taken at face value. As there was no other evidence the CPS reviewing lawyer wanted further information. He asked for more information. Was there a mixed profile? How strong was the DNA? He received obfuscation from the lab. ‘The SFR provided indicated that a number of results were subject to progress.’ But the lawyer was dogged in his determination and finally received this bombshell. ‘The lab confirms due to confusion they have never compared mixed profiles against the defendant.’ They also stated that ‘progress means there are no additional findings’. Then came this chilling line. ‘The lab refused to elaborate any further……’
The reviewing lawyer reported the following,‘I am concerned that the language used in the SFR appears to assert positive and ongoing actions when they are clearly negative. I have requested the OIC to obtain an email from the forensic officer confirming the phone communication and what is implied in the SFR…..he confirmed that the report was misleading.’
The CPS, underfunded, overworked and creaking at the seams comes in for a lot of criticism. In this case the reviewing lawyer deserves a herogram.
Yesterday when I offered no evidence I explained to the judge in detail what had happened. I will never forget the look of horror on his face. There will be a thorough judicial investigation.
And yesterday SKY NEWS reported that a private forensic laboratory had ‘manipulated data.’ What the hell is happening? I will tell you. In 2010 the government announced that the national forensic service (the FSS) was to be closed down and forensic analysis would be privatised. Let me be clear that the FSS has had its fair share of cock ups. But the government announcement prompted horror from professionals. The National Audit Office warned, ‘this could spark a crisis within the justice system.’ They were right. Soon the court of appeal will be swamped. Will someone, somewhere listen? I won’t hold my breath.