I imagine that most people expect that the detection and prosecution of crime goes something like this – offence reported to the police, police come out and carry out all such enquiries necessary to identify the culprit or establish an offence has happened. If successful in detecting the crime then all the evidence is collated and submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service who decide whether the case should be prosecuted. If the case is to be prosecuted, any further evidence required by the lawyers is obtained. A jury or magistrate will then determine guilt or innocence on all the available evidence.
When I first formulated that paragraph it had something in it along the lines of “in a perfect world”. I deleted that phrase. In a perfect world, there would be no crime. In a perfect world where the only scar on global perfection was crime, there would be confessions from all those who transgress.
We are not aiming for some form of Utopia. We are aiming for a functioning society where the average citizen is protected from crime by effective detection and punishment. Actually that is not even just our aim, it is the duty of our Government. One of its very essential duties.
We are so far removed from the basic response set out in the first paragraph of this blog that it is safe to say that the Politicians are failing the People.
Why do I say that?
It is fairly common knowledge that the police do not investigate every crime reported to them. This is not the fault of the police service, they are not provided with sufficient resource to be of service. A few years ago someone smashed my living room window in the early evening. My call to the police never got beyond the civilian call taker. A while ago I prosecuted a case where one of the defendants made a bail application on a demonstrably false premise. He was arrested. He was interviewed. A decision was taken by the police that the further investigation required for charge was going to use too many resources. The case never got as far as a charging decision. Been a victim of fraud? Most likely to be chalked up by the police as a “civil matter”.
This is not, I repeat, criticism of the police per se. They have to make daily decisions about what to prioritise because they are not provided with the resources by the politicians to protect each of us from every crime. That is the inescapable truth. And the future looks even worse.
If you are lucky enough to be the victim of a crime that is investigated, resources will also dictate whether the crime and offender are detected. The use of scientific evidence to determine the identity of the offender has been one of the giant steps forward in crime and policing. Fingerprints, DNA, cellsiting, the list is endless of methods used to detect crime. In the modern world, however, the overriding consideration is not the detection of crime but the deployment of over-stretched resources. The full scientific armoury will not be deployed in the hope of finding out whodunnit. It is a constant battle about where to spend the money and devote the time.
When I was a junior barrister you would regularly find evidence of fibre transfer in cases of aggravated vehicle taking. Where lifts would be taken from the driving seat of the car and the small fibres left on the seat would be compared to the fibre in the clothing of the alleged driver. I cannot imagine that happening today, which probably explains the demise of Contract Traces. A forensic science provider which is now lost to the detection and litigation of crime.
The same considerations apply to the use of resources when the case is within the court system. Countless times the lawyers, either the CPS or the barrister instructed to prosecute the case, will advise that some further evidence is required only to be told that funding has been refused. Some times you will prevail and get the evidence, other times you reach a dead end. I cannot tell you how frustrating that can be, frustration shared by the investigating officers. It feels like you are fighting with one arm tied behind your back. Trials conclude with juries and the judiciary hearing only the evidence we can afford to present.
I am afraid that resources, or a lack of them, bring an end to perfectly viable prosecutions. I have experienced three serious cases that have not reached a verdict of the jury because of problems with disclosure in the last six months. Over stretched police officers have not been able to devote the time and resources required to properly collate and record unused material. Often, even in relatively complicated investigations, one police officer is doing countless jobs including that of disclosure officer. Reviewing lawyers do not have the time to review the material and rely upon imperfect descriptions on the shcedule. So things get missed. Trials are adjourned or ended because of problems. And those represent the good outcomes. Even more worryingly are those trials that reach a conclusion without the errors being discovered.
These are straitened times. I wonder if the politicians realise what impact their decisions really have. Tough on crime and the causes of crime? Well these days, only if you can do it cheaply. When it comes to crime and punishment, doing it cheaply often means not doing it all.