New Appeal: Must the DPP clarify inconsistencies in a witness’s statement before deciding to prosecute?

In this determination, DPP v DH, the Supreme Court granted the DPP leave for a leapfrog appeal from the Central Criminal Court on three questions:

 

(i) Does either the prosecution or the defence have a right of appeal against an order of a trial judge staying a trial pending the taking of further steps by the prosecution?

(ii) In considering whether to stay a criminal trial after its commencement, is a trial judge bound to apply the same test as that appropriate to judicial review proceedings aimed at quashing a decision to prosecute?

(iii) Does the Director of Public Prosecutions have a duty to clarify serious inconsistencies in a witness’s statements before deciding to prosecute, where such inconsistencies may go to the reliability of that witness’s evidence, or is it sufficient that disclosure of such inconsistencies is made to the defence?

 

Background

This case concerns allegations of numerous counts of rape and indecent assault of a young girl dating back to 1987 – 1989.

At trial, DH sought to have the prosecution stayed on grounds of culpable prosecutorial delay. In a voir dire trial, the trial judge did not accept DH’s arguments on delay. However, it emerged that the girl’s social worker (Ms C) had noted in 1995 that the girl was not certain that intercourse had taken place; although at the time of trial the complainant was certain that it had.

The trial judge ordered a stay on the prosecution of the rape charges, stating:

This is a piece of evidence that might indicate that [the complainant’s] evidence to the Court, while truthful and honest might not be reliable and the duty was on the prosecution to explore that evidence, bearing in mind that the risk of an unfair trial that everyone accepts can follow from long delay.

The DPP sought leave for a leapfrog appeal against that order directly to the Supreme Court. The constitutional threshold for a leapfrog appeal are (1), an appeal must be in the interests of justice and (2), there must be exceptional circumstances.

The DPP did not argue that she could not fulfill the terms of the stay. She argued that she met the constitutional threshold as she had no right of appeal to the Court of Appeal where the Central Criminal Court order is not an acquittal, conviction or sentence (1), and it would lead to an inequality between her and the accused if the Supreme Court did not grant leave (2).

The Court determined that the DPP met the constitutional threshold and granted leave.

On appeal “the Director intends to argue that the trial judge applied an incorrect test in exercising her jurisdiction to impose a stay; that she failed to have regard to the limited grounds upon which a decision to prosecute can be reviewed by the courts; that she erred in considering that there was a real risk of an unfair trial having regard to the fact that the documents in question had been disclosed; that she focussed disproportionately on the hearsay accounts of words used by the complainant in the earlier investigations; and that she erred in concluding that the alleged inconsistencies justified the staying of a prosecution”.

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