Criminal defence solicitors have highlighted the full extent of prosecution disclosure 'failures' in a survey that attracted nearly 300 responses in the first 24 hours.
The Criminal Law Solicitors Association, which has long challenged what it claims to be repeated failures by prosecutors to disclose information on time, has begun collecting examples from solicitors to present to the Ministry of Justice, the Criminal Procedure Rule Committee and the Commons justice select committee.
The survey, which opened on Monday, has already attracted 400 responses. The figure is rising steadily, according to solicitor Robin Murray, association committee member and former vice-chair.
Murray, founding partner at Kent criminal defence firm Robin Murray & Co, part of Tuckers Solicitors, said the findings show that 'it is actually the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts that are bringing the system of justice into disrepute'.
He said: 'The survey shows the Crown prosecution fail, on a daily basis, to do what the law requires them to, which is to serve the evidence so the defendant knows the case against them.
'When these failings are brought to the attention of the courts time and again, the courts fail to hold the prosecution to account, which means either a waste of public money because cases are adjourned unnecessarily or, far more seriously, the defence are put under pressure to proceed without reasonable notice of recently served evidence.'
Last year Kevin McGinty, HM chief inspector of the CPS, told the justice select committee disclosure was an ongoing problem. Barrister Richard Horwell QC, who investigated the collapse of a trial following the 1988 murder of Lynette White, said disclosure problems had blighted the criminal justice system for too long.
One solicitor, responding to this week's survey, said the Criminal Procedure Rules 'are reduced to being a best practice document and a stick to beat the defence with'.
Another was successful in obtaining a wasted costs order for their privately represented client, but said this was 'not a practical remedy' for the vast majority of defendants, who are legally aided.
One respondent said: 'The failure of the Crown to comply with their disclosure obligation is the norm. This leads to miscarriages of justice and defendants routinely acknowledge that the magistrates' court is no place to get justice. This has now crept into the Crown court where the defence have to constantly fight to get disclosure... In nearly every single case I have at the moment, approximately 50, the Crown have failed to comply with their disclosure obligation and I've had to list the case for a mention hearing.'
Another solicitor observed: 'There is a culture of the courts giving the CPS the benefit of the doubt by constantly referring to financial pressures, or lack of staff. This is an excuse that carries no weight when you see the lack of funding and the work pressures on defence solicitors.'
The CPS declined to comment.