Silk calls for undercover law change

LEADING criminal silk Geo-ffrey Robertson has called for a new law to clear up confusion on whether undercover police operations are acceptable to the courts.

Robertson says that a statutory defence along Australian lines would be far preferable to the present “piece-meal” approach where evidence is accepted or rejected according to developing case-law.

But without such guidance, it is down to the courts “to put the brake on the burgeoning business of State entrapment”, he says.

The use of police traps was highlighted by the recent case of Colin Stagg, who was cleared at the Old Bailey of the murder in 1992 of Rachel Nickell on London's Wimbledon Common.

In a round-up of relevant case law in Criminal Law Review, Robertson says that the Court of Appeal is using section 78 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act to exclude evidence obtained by over-zealous police traps.

“It is a piecemeal approach… but in the absence of legislative guidance or a binding code of practice, it should be welcomed,” he says.

Chris Porteous, solicitor to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, agrees that the police and Crown Prosecutors need more certainty about the sort of evidence courts will accept.

“It's hard to pick out the path through the trees,” says Porteous.