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Misconduct in public office – No shame!

A look at the case of Collins, Lewis & Jaffer [2022] and misconduct in public office.

You might have already come across this case in the media.

Collins, then a civilian digital forensics expert working for the police, pleaded guilty to an offence of misconduct in public office (indictable only offence, maximum sentence – life imprisonment).

Collins received an immediate custodial sentence of 3 years.

Briefly, Collins had transferred thousands of ‘scenes of crimes’ images from police databases to his own computer and other devices.

Police officers, Lewis and Jaffer, also pleaded guilty to misconduct in public office receiving immediate custodial sentences of 2 years and 9 months respectively.

They were tasked to protect a crime scene, where two sisters were brutally killed, but instead, breached a police cordon and took photos of the deceased. The said images were subsequently shared and exchanged with colleagues and even a friend in the case of Lewis.

The Court of Appeal decision

Collins, Lewis and Jaffer all appealed their respective prison terms.

The Court of Appeal, unsurprisingly, dismissed Collin’s appeal and refused both Lewis and Jaffer leave to appeal against sentence.

In summary, the Court of Appeal reinforced the following points:

  • Misconduct in public office is a serious offence and will be punished accordingly
  • The retrieval, examination and storage of data in a ‘digital world’ has become increasingly essential to the investigation and prosecution of crime
  • The police are entrusted to protect such data. If they don’t and data is copied or disseminated, other than in lawful ways, it carries the risk that neither the police, nor the victims of crime, nor the families, will be able to control who views such sensitive data, or the circumstances in which the data is viewed
  • The distress caused to families and the harmful effects of misuse is most likely to be impossible to rectify; once data has been shared it cannot be un-seen and can be shared and exchanged further

Read the full transcript of Collins, Lewis & Jaffer [2022] EWCA Crim 742 (30 May 2022)