For those of us who heard Alison Saunders on the Today programme the other morning, the first and most enduring reaction was that she had been promoted above her pay grade and certainly above her intelligence.
For those who don’t know, and who care even less, Ms. Saunders is the current Director of Public Prosecutions, and amongst her many responsibilities, she is in charge of the Clown Prosecution Service. She is also in charge of ordering the office tea bags, but that’s another story.
Ms. Saunders is no stranger to controversy. This time around it’s rape again, no surprises there, and a handful of well publicised cases where the alleged rapist has been acquitted after the discovery of texts, social media messages and even videos of the actus reus which flatly contradicted the complainants’ evidence. In passing, I do not know what steps, if any, are being taken against the complainants who told a pack of lies, but historically Ms. Saunders’ riposte has been that to punish perjurers might discourage truthful complainants to come forward. Make of that what you will!
How times have changed. In the bad old days, or according to Plod, the good old days, their primary duty was to secure a conviction, not quite at all costs, but pretty close. All this nonsense about helping a defendant to defend himself, possibly to an acquittal, was just that – nonsense! And in pursuit of justice as Plod saw it, as well as a good pension and a long service medal, what more could Plod and the Great British Public want? And did it matter if a few innocent sods were swept up in the process, so long as the guilty were convicted?
In those good old days, I remember them well, because I was there, the best evidence was the full and frank confession, peppered with such immortal lines as “it’s a fair cop guv” and “looks like I’ll do porridge this time”. These full and frank confessions were not recorded, as they are now. Once the ‘interview’ was over, Plod, there were always two of them to corroborate each other, would repair to the canteen and write up the 2 hour interview verbatim, and the amazing thing was that Judges and juries swallowed these confessions hook line and sinker!
Every now and again, when I was representing a defendant who had allegedly made a full and frank confession which he denied, after 15 minutes of incisive cross-examination, a model of advocacy even if I say so myself, I would invite Plod to write down in his pocket book exactly what questions I had asked him and the answers given. A simple task, you may think, for Plod and his remarkable powers of recall, but no sooner had I made the request, the judge was riding to his rescue by stating, and I kid you not, that this was not a memory test, and my request was refused. Silly me, I thought that was exactly what it was.
Fast forward to today. There have been many changes in Plod-led prosecutions, the two most notable are the presence at interview of the defendant’s solicitor to see fair play, and the requirement that all interviews must be tape recorded and a copy given to the defence. But there remains a grey area as yet to be determined, and that is the extent to which Plod are obliged to disclose any material in their possession which might assist the defence.
I have some sympathy, especially in more complex cases, where the material could run to thousands of pages, and checking through them all would be very time consuming when Plod could be better occupied keeping the streets safe and giving muggers and hooligans a good spanking.
One thing does surprise me. With the use of these phones almost 24/7, it is not uncommon for an ongoing record of the user’s dreary life to be downloaded for future titillation. In these cases, surely it would be the defendant’s first port of call to tell his legal team and Plod that the complainant had recorded their steamy encounter and it’s there for all to see. It shouldn’t be for Plod to second guess. After all, that’s above their pay grade.