Feature

Forensics

In the interests of justice

Streamlined Forensic Reporting (SFR) has been designed to enable investigators, scientists and lawyers to comply with the Criminal Procedure Rules (CrPR), in the interests of justice.
    
“The Criminal Procedure Rules give courts explicit powers to actively manage the preparation of criminal cases waiting to be heard, to get rid of unfair and avoidable delays.”
    
SFR objectives are to reduce costs and delay associated with forensic evidence where such evidence adds no value to the administration of justice. It also aims to provide a stronger basis for Stage 2 forensic reporting through compliance with CrPR, and Part 3, rules 3.2 and 3.3, which set out the Court Case Management requirements
for the early identification of real issues.

Criminal procedure rules
Part 1 of the Criminal Procedure Rules sets out the overriding objective, which is that “criminal cases be dealt with justly.” This includes: acquitting the innocent and convicting the guilty; dealing with the prosecution and the defence fairly; recognising the rights of a defendant, particularly those under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights; respecting the interests of witnesses, victims and jurors and keeping them informed of the progress of the case; and dealing with the case efficiently and expeditiously.
    
The duty of each participant in the conduct of each case includes: the preparation and conduct of the case in accordance with the overriding objective; and compliance with the Rules, practice directions and directions made by the court.
    
Part 3 of the Rules sets out that the duty of the court is to further the overriding objective by actively managing the case, which includes: the early identification of the real issues; the early identification of the needs of witnesses; achieving certainty as to what must be done, by whom, and when, in particular by the early setting of a timetable for the progress of the case; ensuring that evidence, whether disputed or not, is presented in the shortest and clearest way.

Better pre-trial management
The primary purpose of robust pre-trial management is to narrow down the real issues, particularly those of a scientific nature, upon which the jury must decide.
    
SFR is a revised case management procedure for producing forensic evidence at court and seeks to reduce unnecessary costs, bureaucracy and delays in the criminal justice system. The process takes a more proportionate approach to forensic evidence through the early preparation of a short report that details the key forensic evidence the prosecution intend to rely upon.
    
The aim is to achieve early agreement with the defence on forensic issues but where this cannot be achieved in the first instance, to identify the contested issues.
    
Effective use of SFR will lead to: “a lower risk of discontinuance, likely to be due to case papers being better prepared and the defence being informed of the evidence at the earliest stage; an improvement in the early guilty plea rate, resulting in fewer cases coming to trial unnecessarily, helping to ease the pressure of trial dates and associated costs; and a reduction in the number of cases requiring additional forensic evidence, saving time and costs associated with gathering this evidence.”
    
The former Senior Presiding Judge for England and Wales, the Right Honourable Lord Justice Goldring, supported the national introduction of SFR by saying: “In short, everything suggests that SFR can deliver significant benefits to the courts, prosecution and defence. Court time is saved. Unnecessary forensic work is avoided. Unnecessary prosecution work is avoided. The defence are better able to focus on the real issues and appropriately advise their clients.”

The Lawyers’ Perspective
SFR is a means of presenting the results of forensic tests of exhibits in criminal cases, which in most instances are unlikely to be in dispute, in a single form that serves multiple purposes. Its purposes and benefits include enabling experts to produce their findings as early as possible after a forensic result is obtained and enabling experts to produce their findings in the most cost effective way.
    
SFR ensures that further analysis is confined to cases and issues where there is a real issue with the forensic evidence, and it ensures that investigators have accurate information to conduct investigations, make arrests and conduct interviews.
    
SFR helps police and prosecutors to make early and informed charging decisions, and ensures that the defence is able to have early sight of the Initial Details of the prosecution case. It ensures that early and informed pleas can be entered by defendants, and provides a format for the prosecution to serve as part of its case for committal, service or trial.
    
SFP provides a format for evidence to be presented in the shortest and clearest way by s10 admissions made pursuant to the CrPRs; it assists the courts to fulfil their CrPR duties actively to case-manage cases; and provides a platform and means for the real issue which any further forensic work must address.

Assisting compliance
SFR is a fair, transparent, efficient process which is designed to further the overriding objective of the CrPRs, to deal with cases justly. It requires nothing more than that the parties and the courts comply with their existing respective duties under the Rules.
    
SFR is designed to assist compliance with the Criminal Procedure Rules by ensuring that evidence is presented in the shortest and clearest way by facilitating the early identification of the real issues in a case (CrPR, rule 3.2(2)(a)). Each party must actively assist the court in fulfilling its duty (CrPR, rule 3.3). Therefore SFR assists the defence to fulfil its obligations to assist the courts.

Support for early case management
The basis for seeking an admission or early identification of the real issues by the defence:

A substantial body of case law provides support for the requirement for all parties to engage in active case management. For example: R v Chorley Justices 2006 EWHC 1795, ‘…the days of ambushing and taking last minute technical points are gone. They are not consistent with the overriding objective of deciding cases justly, acquitting the innocent and convicting the guilty’ and Balogun v DPP [2010] EWHC 799, ‘...the spirit or letter of the CrPRs is [not] complied with by asserting that the Crown is put to “strict proof...”.’
    
There are restrictions on a defendant’s ability to assert a positive case if the prosecution are put to proof on forensic or any issues. And, in an exceptional case, where a party manifestly does not comply with the rules, the prosecution may apply for the SFR to be admitted in the interests of justice under s114 CJA 2003. R v Ishmael Adams [2007] EWCA Crim 3025:  ‘…otherwise D would escape on purely technical grounds.’ This doesn’t reverse the burden of proof: ‘the question is not whether it is for the Crown to prove possession but how the Crown shall be permitted to prove it.’

Further information
www.forensic-science-society.org.uk

 



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