FPT HEADS OF PROSECUTIONS COMMITTEE
REPORT OF THE WORKING GROUP ON THE PREVENTION OF MISCARRIAGES OF JUSTICE
If there is one theme that emerges from all of the recommendations in this report, it is vigilance – everyone involved in the criminal justice system must be constantly on guard against the factors that can contribute to miscarriages of justice and must be provided with appropriate resources and training to reduce the risk of wrongful convictions. Indeed, the Working Group believes that individual police officers and prosecutors, individual police forces and prosecution services, and indeed the entire police and prosecution communities, must make the prevention of wrongful convictions a constant priority.
To assist in this process, police officers and prosecutors, police and prosecution services need up-to-date and easy-to-access information. Therefore, the Working Group recommends that the Heads of Prosecutions Committee, perhaps in association with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, establish a resource center on the prevention of wrongful convictions. This would house the latest information, policies, research, studies and reports from Canada and elsewhere, on wrongful convictions, their causes and cures. This center need not even be a physical office but could be a Web site, or perhaps a page on the revamped FPT Heads Intranet site. The Working Group has already compiled an extensive library of material that can be used to build this resource. It could highlight the valuable work already being done in many jurisdictions and allow others to share these best practices and model their new policies on these existing ones.
Some of our recommendations will require changes by individual prosecutors and police officers. Some will require action by individual prosecution services and police agencies, others by the entire police and prosecution communities, sometimes working together. Some of our recommendations will take time to implement and some of our suggestions require the development of new policies. For example, detailed educational programs for police and prosecutors will need to be developed. Although some of these policies and educational opportunities can, and should, be developed locally, others would benefit from being developed centrally and then adapted to local conditions. To provide this follow-up and central coordination and development, as well as continuing leadership in ensuring the issue remains on the agenda of police and prosecutors, we recommend the Heads of Prosecutions Committee establish a permanent committee on the prevention of wrongful convictions to continue our work. The current members of the Working Group could form the nucleus of such a committee. Again, such a committee would benefit greatly from the continued involvement of the police community through CACP.
Both the law and technology in many of the areas discussed in this report continue to evolve. As noted earlier, two more commissions of inquiry on wrongful convictions will issue their reports in the next few years. Therefore we recommend that the new committee continually review the recommendations in this report to take into account developments in the law and technology and subsequent commissions of inquiry. At a minimum, a full review should take place in five years, building on the ongoing work of this committee.
Many of our recommendations require nothing more than a change in attitude on the part of players in the criminal justice system. Others require changes in policy and practice by police and prosecutors. And of course some will require additional resources. But, given the potential impact on individuals who are wrongfully convicted, the untold costs from the loss of public confidence in the administration of justice and the millions of dollars spent on commissions of inquiry and compensation, the Working Group strongly believes this is money well worth spending.
SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS
- Subject to available resources, the Heads of Prosecutions Committee, perhaps in association with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, should establish a resource center on the prevention of wrongful convictions. This could be a Web page or a page on the revamped FPT Heads' Intranet site.
- The Heads of Prosecutions Committee should establish a permanent committee on the prevention of wrongful convictions, with continued involvement of the police community through the CACP.
- The recommendations in this report should be continually reviewed by the committee to take into account developments in the law and technology and subsequent commissions of inquiry. At a minimum, a full review should take place in five years building on the ongoing work of this committee.
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