In a judgment given today the Supreme Court considered whether there was an obligation upon the Police and Crown Prosecution Service to provide evidential material not previously seen to convicted persons seeking to demonstrate innocence on appeal or by way of application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC). The High Court previously held when hearing this case in 2012, that there was a very narrow set of circumstances where the obligations would apply. Although the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, it today confirmed that there is a duty. Whilst it is a narrow one in order to preserve the finality of the conviction, it is far clearer, and will be easier to satisfy for those wrongfully convicted.
The Criminal Appeals Lawyers’ Association, Innocence Network UK and JUSTICE intervened in the case to highlight the importance of access to material in proving a miscarriage of justice. Our organisations were concerned that the earlier judgment of the High Court would have made it extremely difficult to obtain the evidence necessary to demonstrate innocence and have seen recent examples where applications for material have been refused in reliance upon it.
The Supreme Court has now held that post-conviction disclosure should occur in two ways:
(1) Where material comes to light that casts doubt upon the safety of the conviction, unless there is a good reason not to; and
(2) If there exists a real prospect that further enquiry will reveal something that may affect the safety of the conviction.
In particular, the Court said:
“The police and prosecutors ought to exercise sensible judgment when representations of this kind are made on behalf of convicted persons. If there appears to be a real prospect that further enquiry will uncover something which may affect the safety of the conviction, then there should be co-operation in making it. It is in nobody’s interests to resist all enquiry unless and until the CCRC directs it.” [at 41]