Sam Armstrong, a former aide to a Tory MP who was cleared of rape after crucial information was released just days before his trial, has added his voice to criticism of the embattled director of public prosecutions in the wake of a scathing parliamentary report.
The Commons justice committee said “insufficient focus and leadership” led to problems going unresolved and that Ms Saunders “did not sufficiently recognise the extent and seriousness” of failures within the disclosure process.
These failings by the the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) led to the collapse of a series of rape and sexual assault cases as well as miscarriages of justice, with some people being sent to prison as a result.
Mr Armstrong said his life “exploded” after he was wrongfully charged with two counts of rape and two of sexual assault. He was cleared unanimously of all charges by a jury.
His was one of a series of rape trials to collapse in 2017 when it became clear that vital evidence had not been properly handed over.
Mr Armstrong told Sky News: “It’s incredibly unusual to see a report that so personally singles out one individual for criticism.
“It’s clear that members of this committee are scathing about what they see as the institutionalised culture within the CPS of failure to disclose basic evidence as the CPS are required to by law.”
Mr Armstrong said the debacle over disclosure let down both defendants and complainants.
He said: “This isn’t really about men versus women or about getting the conviction rates up, it’s about the CPS doing their job properly.
“It’s really concerning that for so long… these problems have been going unchecked.”
Mr Armstrong said he had a promising career, but “overnight that exploded”.
He said: “I lost my job, I lost my home, I lost everything.
“The consequences when this goes wrong are devastating.
“It is really hurtful for the people involved and that is why it is so important we get it right.”
Justice committee chairman Bob Neill, a Conservative MP and barrister, said: “As we’ve seen in high profile cases since last year – disclosure failings are extremely damaging for those concerned and can have a permanent lifelong impact.
“These failings have caused miscarriages of justice and – as the director of public prosecutions even admitted to us – some people have gone to prison as a result.”
The CPS and police must hand over material that helps the defence but this is often viewed as an “administrative headache”, said Mr Neill.
The collapsed cases led to a review of all live rape and sexual assault prosecutions in England and Wales, with disclosure problems found in 47.
The justice committee report says disclosure must be seen as a “core justice duty” rather than an “administrative add-on”.
A national disclosure improvement plan is being brought in as part of a review by the attorney general.
“The proliferation of electronic evidence makes disclosure ever more challenging, and we need the right skills, technology, resources and guidelines, to resolve this once and for all,” said Mr Neill.
He said the improvement plan “must deliver” and that “too many reviews of disclosure that have not resulted in real change”.
Ms Saunders said: “I have been very clear that addressing the long-standing problems in managing disclosure across the criminal justice system is my top priority.”
She said there was now an “unprecedented focus on finding solutions” and changing “the wider culture within the CPS and policing”.