Earlier this month it was revealed that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has agreed to pay a ‘significant amount’ in damages to a 50-year-old Coventry man, Conrad Jones, following his acquittal at the Court of Appeal of conspiring to pervert the course of justice.
Mr Jones’s conviction was quashed on appeal in 2014. He had served six years of a 12-year sentence for perverting the course of justice by attempting to bribe, threaten and intimidate a central female witness from giving evidence that would implicate his friends in the murder of Clinton Bailey in 2005.
During the appeal it emerged that the CPS had failed to disclose critical evidence which undermined the case against Mr Jones during his prosecution. He was released on license in 2012, still protesting his innocence. It was only as a result of a subsequent arrest for conspiring to pervert the course of justice, an offence he was acquitted of, that it fell to different lawyers to review the disclosure that had taken place back in 2006/7. They came across surveillance material which in their view undermined the original prosecution and should have been disclosed back at that point in time. The substance of that material was then disclosed (the actual material being subject to public interest immunity).
Mr Jones sought retrospective permission to appeal his original conviction, relying heavily on that evidence. The ‘new’ material showed, in essence, that there was no way that he could have been in Nottingham, as alleged, within the timeframes provided by the key witness to bribe and threaten her. That was highly significant because it was the only face-to-face meeting the witness alleged and if that had not taken place, not only was the ‘central plank’ of the prosecution case undermined, it also seriously undermined the witnesses credibility more generally, something on which the rest of the case depended.
The Court of Appeal allowed Mr Jones’s appeal even though it was out of time. On acquitting Mr Jones, Lord Justice Pitchford was harshly critical of the Crown’s decision not to disclose the vital information at the time of the 2007 trial, and of their attempts to argue at the appeal that the timing of the meeting between Mr Jones and the witness was not relevant.
Pitchford LJ concluded: ‘We can only regard the failure to make the disclosure in early 2007 that was subsequently made in June 2013 as a lamentable failure of the prosecutor’s obligations.’
Liability was denied on the basis that, aside from the surveillance material, Mr Jones could still have been convicted based on other evidence, namely the rest of the witness evidence. This was not accepted by Mr Jones or his legal team and a confidential settlement was negotiated and apology received.
Two of the men convicted of the murder of Clinton Bailey, James Dunn and Gary Higgins, whose convictions had rested heavily on the testimony of the witness, applied to appeal against their murder convictions relying in part on the ‘new evidence’ that emerged in Conrad Jones’ appeal. In the course of that appeal, it emerged that there had been multiple further serious disclosure failures relating to the witnesses’ credibility, described by Davis LJ as ‘regrettable and serious’. As a result of these failures, which the judge stated ‘also bear directly on the actual fairness of the trial and appeal process’, the convictions were found to be unsafe and both men were acquitted on 23 September 2016 after serving 11 years in prison.
The way this case has been conducted calls into question public confidence in the criminal justice system and the legal profession. It is clear that the CPS and prosecution counsel had in their possession, both while my client remained on remand in prison awaiting trial and at the time of my client’s trial, surveillance material which showed he could not realistically have met with and bribed the key witness not to give evidence. They knew it was relevant, they knew it undermined the prosecution case and strengthened Mr Jones’ defence and they knew that the law required them to disclose it.
Not only that, we now know, only following the Court of Appeal’s more recent judgment, that they had other highly relevant material which they knowingly failed to disclose relating to the witnesses credibility, which again seriously undermined the prosecution case and strengthened my client’s defence and destroyed any remnants of the case against my client.
My client was sent to prison for 12 years, serving six years of that sentence in high security conditions with devastating consequences for him and his family. He has always protested his innocence. He now knows that throughout his prison ordeal, the CPS had in their possession, but willfully failed to disclose material that seriously undermined the case against him and had it not been for a second prosecution, many years after his conviction, he would never even have known about it.
Our criminal justice system requires prosecutors to disclose certain relevant evidence so that defendants know the case against them and can have a fair trial, and so that juries have the full facts at their disposal to enable them to reach a verdict. To discover years after the event that the CPS, on the advice of highly experienced lawyers, has knowingly and repeatedly failed to comply with the criminal law on disclosure is shocking and raises very serious questions which go right to the heart of public confidence in the criminal justice system and the legal profession.
As a result, I understand that Mr Jones’s criminal lawyer has put a complaint into the Bar Standards Board about the conduct of prosecution counsel. I hope that robust action is taken, which would at least be a step towards addressing the serious loss of confidence in the criminal justice system arising from these cases.
Sasha is a partner in the civil liberties team at Hodge Jones & Allen LLP