Complex and lengthy criminal trials – a JUSTICE working party report offers solutions

Over the course of 2015 a JUSTICE working party of members and invited experts chaired by Sir David Calvert-Smith was tasked with reviewing the current processes that lead to complex and lengthy criminal trials. This was in order to present a series of recommendations designed to deliver increased efficiency and effectiveness within the criminal justice processes, while maintaining the absolute right to a fair trial.

Complex and lengthy trials (CLTs) constitute a specific and longstanding concern of the criminal justice system. They require vast resources and have only got longer and more unmanageable as advances in technology have given rise to more and more electronic material, which must be reviewed, disclosed and then presented effectively at trial. Despite various reviews and protocols, which identify and offer solutions to the problems associated with CLTs, those problems persist, and the result is undue length, complexity and delay at all stages.

The Working Party considered the three stages of a case – investigation, pre-trial and trial – and identified at each stage where we think there is a need for reform. Building upon existing guidance and the recent Leveson Review of Efficiency in Criminal Proceedings, the solutions lie, we consider, within three broad themes across each stage of a trial:

  • First, early engagement of relevant expertise at the investigation stage to ensure that the seizure and search of material is focused and proportionate to the alleged criminal activity and of trial counsel at the pre-trial stage, to ensure that disclosure takes place as early as possible, and that the issues in the trial are identified.
  • Second, case management, by senior and independent law enforcement and prosecution agencies at the investigation stage, to ensure that the investigation is focused and progresses as quickly as possible, and by the same trial judge from the start of the pre-trial stage through to the trial, who can assist the parties to narrow the issues and present a clear case for the jury to consider.
  • Third, adoption of agile and intuitive technology, built by the criminal justice system to meet its investigation and preparation needs, without compatibility boundaries across police forces, prosecution units or defence firms, which enables all trials to be presented with visual aids rather than reams of paper.

Sir David was assisted by Jodie Blackstock, Andrea Coomber, Douglas Day QC, Anand Doobay, Anthony Edwards, Stephen Gentle, Benjamin Myers QC, HHJ Rebecca Poulet QC, Paul Richardson, Ros Wright QC, Professor Michael Zander QC. Their work was generously supported by Simmons and Simmons LLP.

Read the full report.

Read a summary and highlights from the report in our press release.