Barra McGrory has been in post since 2011. Time enough , you might think, to get the basics right.
Let’s look at how his team is doing on disclosure.
Disclosure, Dear Reader is an obligation placed on the prosecution to give to the defence any material [statements, forensics etc.] that might be considered capable of undermining the case for the prosecution or of assisting the case for the accused. In other words the prosecution cannot hide evidence which does not suit their case.
This month, Criminal Justice Inspection NI published a report into the quality of police files.
It found that “disclosure was dealt with satisfactorily by police in only 23% of Crown Court cases. This is unacceptable”.
In his report Brendan McGuigan , Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice, listed the consequences of disclosure obligations not being followed. See para 3.41. Astonishingly, he failed to mention the most important risk of all, that an innocent man might be convicted.
Imagine that you are wrongly accused of shoplifting. Your defence is that you were not in the shop at the time, you were walking in the local park. The police fail to disclose that they took a statement from a man who recognised you , walking a dog.
You are convicted.
The issue of disclosure has featured in many appeals and in references by the Criminal Cases Review Commission. It is not new and it is not rocket science and the subsequent acquittals or quashings of conviction may only be the tip of the iceberg.
You might be tempted to say ‘ now that it has been highlighted I’m sure George and Barra will fix it’.
Well, in April 2013 the Inspector found that the PPS records of continuing disclosure to defence teams were “not good” and some compliances were “very poor”.
So what did Barra say about that?
He said ” I am confident that the PPS can rise to the challenges highlighted”.
Well Barra, as they say in Belfast has not “riz” at all. This despite publicly criticising PSNI files in March 2012 , only four months into the job, in an effort to divert attention away from his underachieving and dysfunctional Service.
The lesson? Try not to be prosecuted in the Crown Court in Northern Ireland. It is a dangerous place for defendants.
All of this has received little coverage in a media obsessed with sensation.
More disturbingly, unless I have missed it ,the Criminal Bar Association [with justice as its watchword], has not commented on this limp performance by Barra and George.
Barra would serve justice better by putting his head down and delivering a first class prosecution system, instead of sound bites.