Report touts progress on wrongful convictions

Justice system players are better placed than ever to prevent wrongful convictions, according to a new report released this week.

The report, prepared by the federal/provincial/territorial heads of prosecutions committee, was a followup to its 2005 look at the issue of prevention of miscarriages of justice.

“There has been a phenomenal level of educational activity among police and prosecutors about the causes of wrongful convictions. Today there is 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,” reads the update. “Education about the phenomenon of miscarriages of justice is now a staple of training for rookie and senior officers and prosecutors alike.”

But the authors — senior prosecutors and police officers from across Canada — sounded a cautionary note about “an era of fiscal restraint and new pressures on the justice system.”

“There is a danger that this promising new level of activity will inevitably diminish. Thus, the central message of this report must be the need for continued vigilance,” says the report. “The human cost of one wrongful conviction cannot be tolerated. Our society cannot afford to let justice fail.”

The report provides updates on the most important causes identified by the 2005 report, including tunnel vision, eyewitness misidentification, false confessions, use of in-custody informers, and inappropriate use of forensic evidence and expert testimony.

“It serves as a learning tool and a great resource to our organizations and law enforcement agencies to ensure compliance with the recommendations,” said Brian Saunders, Canada’s director of public prosecutions and permanent co-chairman of the committee that wrote the report.

The committee has no plans for another comprehensive review but will continue to monitor police and prosecution activities.

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