Criminals could be walking free from courts because the police and CPS are failing to prepare cases properly, an inspection has found.
An audit of the police and CPS found that both are failing to hand over crucial documents to the defence lawyers in time, leading to cases being delayed or even collapsing.
Kevin McGinty, HM chief inspector of the CPS, said the failings were “unfair, unprofessional and unlawful”.
Police and the CPS are obliged to hand over documents which might undermine the prosecution or aid the defence case to the defence lawyers. Delays in doing this can lead to trials being postponed, disrupted or even abandoned.
Mr McGinty added that the failures “sometimes do result in miscarriages of justice. It is unfair – it is unfair on the victims, it is unfair to witnesses.”
He added that there was “a culture of acceptance by the police and prosecution that it’s all just too difficult to deal with.”
The failings mean some cases where defendants are accused of serious offences such as murder and rape could be collapsing.
In 2014 a stalking case collapsed because of a failure to pass on crucial mobile phone evidence in time, leaving the defence unable to analyse it.
The CPS appealed but the case was refused by the Court of Appeal, meaning the defendant, who was accused of harassing eight women, walked free.
In his judgment Sir Brian Leveson said the victims deserved an apology from the CPS and added: “It is only right to emphasise that there has been no suggestion that they were not subjected to offensive texts and calls and we recognise that a full trial has not been undertaken”.
In another case, the trial was stopped of two alleged rapists after the judge found that prosecution failures had led to an abuse of process. That prosecution continued after an appeal.
Inspectors examined 90 random cases and found that two had been discontinued due to disclosure issues.
The prosecution met all requirements in less than half of cases examined, and failed to meet them at all in 18 per cent.
Ministry of Justice figures for 2014-15, the most recent full year available, show that more than 2,500 trials were delayed or disrupted because of issues relating to disclosure.
Inspectors said that the College of Policing needed to improve training for officers and appoint dedicated roles to make sure forces were handing over information properly.
Rachel Tuffin, director at the College of Policing, said: “As the professional body for the police, we recently developed entry level disclosure training for officers and updated an existing online package, although this has not been fully reflected in today’s report.
“We will now carefully consider the recommendation for us to develop classroom-based training, as there is an absence in the report of clear evidence that this model will address the issues identified.”
Gregor McGill, Director of Legal Services in the CPS, said: “The CPS understands the importance of complying with its statutory obligations relating to the disclosure of unused material and is committed to doing so. We will urgently work with our partners in policing, and other agencies, to address the findings in this report.
“We are already working with the police to improve our performance. For example, we are bolstering the role of our disclosure leads across England and Wales who ensure compliance with the mandatory disclosure regimeand now insist on mandatory training for all our prosecutors.
“We know there is more to be done and will be taking a range of steps, which we will outline in a joint CPS and police action plan later this year.”