The communications breakdown resulted in the collapse of the attempted murder trial of George Wright (38) in Scotland’s highest court last week.
Now a senior judge has ordered Lord Advocate James Wolffe to explain how senior prosecution lawyers caused the costly fiasco by “outsourcing” the task of gathering crucial information to another department without proper supervision.
The High Court in Livingston heard a sharp rise in serious and organised crime prosecutions and a high number of staff absences contributed to the problem which resulted in a £12,000 a day trial being abandoned after three days of uncertainty.
The administrative errors resulted in an accused – on trial for violently attacking a 62-year-old man to his severe injury, permanent disfigurement and danger of life – being freed from prison on Thursday.
Mr Wright had denied attempted extortion, attempted murder and police assault, but his trial collapsed on day three after the jury had heard less than two hours of evidence.
Within hours of the Crown’s blunders being discovered, it emerged senior Crown counsel had immediately shut down the outsourcing experiment to avoid a repetition of the embarrassing gaffe.
Prosecutors now have to ensure all available disclosure is ready for release before they can decide when to re-indict the case against Wright.
Dismissing the jury, Judge Lady Scott said she was demanding a full explanation for the “apparent failure of the Crown in their statutory duty to disclose that information”.
“The explanation for this delay which has been given to the court was essentially that the outsourcing of the preparation of this case had taken place and failures had resulted from that process. I was also told that there had been changes in practice since.
“I am not satisfied that this is a satisfactory explanation and I will be writing to the Lord Advocate. As a result of this abject failure by the Crown and the absence of proper assurance that the obligation for disclosure has been met – and no date can be given to the court for that the assurances to be given – I consider that the only remedy at this stage is to desert the trial.”
A Crown Office spokesman said: “We note the decision of the court. We will carefully review the issues raised by the Court in this case to identify any opportunities to improve our working practices and the service we deliver for the people of Scotland.
“In the meantime, we will take steps to bring this case back before the Court as soon as possible.”