Monday, November 19, 2012

Justice Denied?

A colleague recently called me to ask for some advice (hey, it happens!) in regards to his current criminal defence investigation. This is the one regarding the murder I mentioned briefly earlier.

His first roadblock is that he has to locate, then interview, a pivotal witness who happens to be in prison. Somewhere.

And he needs to do so early this week.

Hence Problem #1: how do you locate a currently-serving inmate when robust privacy laws protect that information from the public?

Well, in this part of the world the answer is not very easily. And even when you do, getting in to see them is another problem itself.

Firstly, you have to write to the prison authorities in question, providing full details of the individual you wish to locate. They, in turn, ask the prisoner if he wishes to disclose his location and, if he does, will respond within 28 days.

If not, you will receive a letter stating there is no information to give you.

Okay, so once your prisoner has been located and has indicated a willingness to see you, you have to face Problem #2: the vetting procedure.  Not so much the procedure itself but the time it takes to process your application.

The last time I was tasked with interviewing a prisoner, a witness to a fairly serious incident with information regarding the identity and whereabouts of other potential witnesses, I was told that the vetting procedure might take up to two months.

How long?

Given that my Client's trial was in less than two weeks, clearly that wasn't going to be of much assistance to me. I was frostily told that I should have applied earlier if that was the case, and not to have left it to this late stage.

I countered that I had only just received instruction from the Client's solicitor (who, in turn, just had legal aid funding approved for my services). Also, I pointed out that my licence (renewed yearly) was issued by the lead organisation within the justice sector and surely that must have some bearing in regards to assisting the vetting procedure...?

After much grumbling The Powers That Be decided that my application could be 'fast-tracked' but they were quite vocal about what a favour they were doing me. I was able to visit and interview the witness several days later and achieved a very good result for the Client.

However, the whole procedure made me think about the role of private investigators in criminal defence cases in this country - something that the system doesn't really support or acknowledge - making the job somewhat more complex and time-consuming that it could be.

Is this, as the old maxim puts it, a case of: Justice delayed is justice denied?

What hurdles do criminal defence investigators face in other countries?

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