Criminal lawyers will have been horrified by the revelations about non-disclosure of evidence helpful to the defence. Those of us with a long memory can picture my tyro efforts in the 1960s to squeeze out of an unwilling constabulary even a scintilla of the prosecution case against my client. The inspector might open his ﬁle a quarter of an inch and felt he was doing me a favour.
Thus, in common with all defence lawyers of the 1960s and 1970s, I would go into court with only the slightest idea of the prosecution case – or only the version provided by my client. Talk about ﬂying by the seat of your pants. How often would the ground open up under my feet when l was obliged to argue against overwhelming evidence – a very dispiriting experience.
It was as demeaning to me as it was tiresome for magistrates. How many pointless defences might have been saved by proper disclosure?
Defence lawyers today do not know how lucky they are not to have to deal with ‘the verbals’ which convicted so many clients before the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Disclosure still seemed to be a patchy affair after that and one was still very much in the hands of an obliging Crown Prosecution Service.
We are thankfully now in a different world – a better one than can only get better still, with the focus on full and proper disclosure at last.
John Greenwood, Retired defence lawyer, Chippenham