New Report Released on Prevention of Wrongful Convictions
Ottawa – April 25, 2019 – A comprehensive new report on what police and prosecutors can do to prevent wrongful convictions, entitled “Innocence at Stake: The Need for Continued Vigilance to Prevent Wrongful Convictions in Canada,” was released today by the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Heads of Prosecutions Committee (HOP).
The report, prepared by a committee of senior prosecutors and police officers, is the third of a series of reports, beginning with the 2005 “Prevention of Miscarriages of Justice” and the 2011 “The Path to Justice: Preventing Wrongful Convictions.”
The report concludes that there is a high level of awareness within the police and Crown communities in Canada about the causes of wrongful convictions and what can be done to prevent them. It documents ongoing activity to reform practices, particularly in the areas of false confessions and forensic science.
Since the 2011 Report, there have been fewer high-profile cases of wrongful conviction in Canada and no commissions of inquiry. This, the report states, should not instil complacency:
“Subcommittee members believe strongly that we have a duty to ensure that concern about wrongful convictions remains part of the public discourse concerning the criminal justice system.”
The report canvasses the latest information and, where necessary, updates earlier recommendations on the most important causes of wrongful convictions, including tunnel vision, eyewitness misidentification, false confessions, use of in-custody informers and inappropriate use of forensic evidence and expert testimony.
For the first time, the new report includes chapters on Crown advocacy, false guilty pleas and certain at-risk populations, such as youth, women and Indigenous Canadians.
The report recommends that further research be conducted into the circumstances that lead to false guilty pleas in Canada and the extent to which certain groups may be particularly vulnerable to false guilty pleas. It also recommends that prosecution services in Canada review their policies to ensure they contain adequate safeguards, guidelines and clear direction to prosecutors.
Kathleen Roussel, Canada’s Director of Public Prosecutions and permanent Co-chair of the HOP committee, said the report, like its two predecessors, will be a useful guide for individual prosecutors and police officers, prosecution and police services, and the HOP committee.
“Everyone involved in the criminal justice system must be constantly on guard against the factors that can contribute to miscarriages of justice.”
The previous reports have been cited at all levels of court in Canada, including by the Supreme Court of Canada. They have been studied at conferences in various countries, are cited by scholars in the academic literature and are part of the curriculum of several law school courses in Canada dedicated to the study of wrongful convictions.
The reports have had a significant influence and have been an important catalyst for shedding light on the causes and circumstances leading to wrongful convictions in Canada.
The FPT Heads of Prosecutions 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 https://ppsc.gc.ca/eng/pub/is-ip/index.html
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