When prosecutors don’t follow the rules, people suffer.
This much we have seen through the trial, imprisonment and now release of “JB”. We don’t know his name because when all of this happened he was a juvenile.
JB was 15 years old when he was said to have stabbed another man in a street fight. After being arrested, the prosecution alleged that he confessed to a Support Person at the police station.
After spending almost 7 years in gaol he was released, and the Court of Criminal Appeal has recently allowed an appeal against his conviction and acquitted him.
JB and his barrister had no idea that the support person who gave evidence about his confession was in fact a registered police informer. Moreover, the support person had received a discount on his sentence in relation to an entirely unconnected prosecution.
That doesn’t in and of itself prove that the support person was lying, but it is important information that JB’s barrister should have had access to in order to allow him to effectively cross-examine the support person. A benefit that the support person received for giving the evidence (namely, a more lenient sentence in unrelated proceedings) is a reason to lie, and may well have created a reasonable doubt as to whether the confession actually happened at all.
We will never know what the jury might have thought about that information, because the fact that the witness received that benefit was deliberately concealed from JB’s barrister.
As if that was not outrageous enough, JB’s own solicitor had the information but failed to pass it on to JB’s barrister or to JB himself. Why? Because that solicitor was also representing the support person in those unrelated proceedings.
The criminal law is an adversarial system. Each side goes all out to try and convince the judge and/or the jury that the case should be decided in their favour.
That system can only function, however, when each sides follows the rules. Here the prosecution clearly and deliberately failed to comply with their disclosure obligations, and were assisted by a defence solicitor who had a massive conflict of interest that should never have been allowed to happen.
As a result, a young man spent almost 7 years in gaol.