Rape trial failings could hamper future convictions, Lord Judge warns
The former lord chief justice said recent failings could lead juries to doubt whether they have been presented with all relevant evidence.
The high-profile collapse of several rape trials could damage the prospect of convictions in genuine cases, the former lord chief justice has warned.
Lord Judge, who was the most senior judge in England and Wales between 2008 and 2013, described recent failings as “alarming” and said they could lead juries to doubt whether they have been presented with all relevant evidence.
His comments come after errors led to sexual assault charges against Oxford University student Oliver Mears, 19, being dropped just days before his trial.
Lord Judge told The Times: “The recent examples in cases involving alleged sexual crime are alarming, both for all the individuals concerned and for public confidence in the administration of criminal justice generally.
“It is at least possible that from time to time juries, alarmed as everyone else by these cases, may wonder, even in an apparently strong case, whether they have been provided with all the admissible evidence.
“These events may reduce the prospects of conviction even when the allegation is genuine.”
Surrey Police became the second force to announce a review all of its rape cases on Friday, after a judge criticised how allegations against Mr Mears were handled.
Mr Mears had spent two years on bail after being accused of raping and assaulting a woman in July 2015.
But the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) dropped the case after fresh evidence, including a diary that supported his case, was passed to them last week.
Surrey Police admitted there were “flaws in the investigation” after it failed to examine the woman’s digital media, which was only handed to prosecutors on Monday, or follow “a reasonable line of enquiry”.
Scotland Yard also announced a review of its sex crime investigations after the collapse of two rape trials in a week in December.
The trial of Liam Allan, 22, was halted at Croydon Crown Court in December, while days later another prosecution collapsed against Isaac Itiary at Inner London Crown Court.
A third rape trial against Samson Makele collapsed at Snaresbrook Crown Court on Monday.
The 28-year-old was accused of raping a woman he met after the Notting Hill Carnival in 2016, but was thrown out after more than a dozen pictures emerged of the pair apparently cuddling in bed.
Prosecutor Sarah Lindop told Guildford Crown Court on Friday the case against Mr Mears was “finely balanced” from the start and the new material “tips the balance” in favour of the teenager.
Judge Jonathan Black demanded that the head of the CPS Rape and Sexual Offences unit write to him within 28 days “with a full explanation of what went wrong” before he decides whether any action is required “at CPS or police level”.
He said: “It seems to me in a case which is as finely balanced as you say it was, there have been unnecessary delays in investigating… leading to what seems to be a completely unnecessary last-minute decision in this case.
“Both Oliver Mears and the complainant have had this matter hanging over their heads for two years in circumstances, had the investigation been carried out properly in the first instance, that would not have led to this position.”
Surrey Police said the case was dropped for “a number of reasons”, only one of which related to the force.
“This is an investigative issue and not related to disclosure,” a statement said. “We accept that there were flaws in the initial investigation.
“It was not expedient and the investigator did not examine the victim’s digital media during the initial stages of the investigation or follow what we would consider to be a reasonable line of enquiry.”
The force has launched a joint investigation with the CPS.