New Report on Wrongful Convictions Released

Federal/Provincial/Territorial Heads of Prosecutions Committee

ST. JOHN’S - September 15, 2011 – A new report on wrongful convictions entitled “The Path to Justice: Preventing Wrongful Convictions” was released today by the Federal/Provincial/Territorial Heads of Prosecutions Committee (HOP).

The report is a follow-up to a 2005 report entitled “Prevention of Miscarriages of Justice” and was prepared by a committee of senior prosecutors and police officers.

Today’s report concludes that “There now exists a higher level of awareness than ever before among Canadian police and prosecutors about the causes of wrongful convictions and what can be done to prevent them.”

The report urges a continuing national commitment at a senior level to focus attention on the issue. “The human cost of one wrongful conviction cannot be tolerated. Our society cannot afford to let justice fail.”

The report notes there has been a “phenomenal level” of educational activity among police and prosecutors about the causes of wrongful convictions. New recruits and veterans alike now receive regular training on the factors that contribute to wrongful convictions.

It canvasses the latest information on the most important causes of wrongful convictions, as described in the 2005 Report, including tunnel vision, eyewitness misidentification, false confessions, use of in-custody informers, and inappropriate use of forensic evidence and expert testimony.

The update notes that following a recommendation in the 2007 Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Certain Aspects of the Trial and Conviction of James Driskell, all Canadian jurisdictions have conducted reviews in different forms of their use of hair microscopy evidence to determine if any cases should be reopened, as occurred in Manitoba. The most formal reviews were in Ontario and British Columbia.

Brian Saunders, Canada’s Director of Public Prosecutions and permanent co-chair of the HOP Committee, said he is pleased with the report. “It serves as a learning tool and a great resource to our organizations and law enforcement agencies to ensure compliance with the recommendations.”

The 2005 report has been cited at all levels of Court, including the Supreme Court of Canada. It has also been studied at conferences in several countries and is now part of several law school curriculums dedicated to the study of wrongful convictions.

The HOP Committee has established a permanent committee of prosecutors and police officers on the prevention of wrongful convictions.

The HOP Committee brings together the leaders of Canada’s prosecution services to promote assistance and cooperation on operational issues relating to criminal prosecutions. The Committee also provides the prosecution perspective to Federal/Provincial/Territorial Ministers and Deputy Ministers Responsible for Justice.

The full report is available at: http://www.ppsc-sppc.gc.ca/eng/pub/ptj-spj/index.html.

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