COMMONS

Disclosure of evidence in criminal cases examined

22 February 2018

The Justice Committee launches an inquiry into the disclosure of evidence in criminal cases. This follows the announcement of the Committee's intention to examine the issue on 25 January.

"Extensive issues" with handling of disclosure

Since November 2017 there have been several reports of criminal cases collapsing due to failings in disclosure of evidence.

In July 2017 a report by HM Inspectorate of the Crown Prosecution Service (HMCPSI) had highlighted "extensive issues" with handling of disclosure, following which the Attorney General initiated a review which is ongoing.

The cases that have been reported in the last few months demonstrate the importance of disclosure and the pertinence of the issues raised by the Inspectorate.

The cases reported in the media relate predominantly to the very serious crimes of sexual assault and rape and – in one case reported in January 2018 – to people trafficking.

In more than one of the reported rape cases, questions were raised about whether the defendant should have been charged in the first place. 

This inquiry aims to investigate disclosure procedures fully to ensure they are fit for purpose and that the steps proposed to address existing issues are sufficient to resolve them.

The Committee's findings will feed into the Attorney General's ongoing review.

Send us your views

The Committee welcomes written evidence to answer some or all of the following questions:

1. Are the current policies, rules and procedures satisfactory to enable appropriate disclosure of evidence and support the defendant's right to a fair trial? 

  • How effective are current policies, rules and procedures – particularly in the light of the growth in electronically stored material (such as text or social media messages)?
  • To what extent (if at all) have any recent or ongoing changes to the wider policy landscape, including in relation to legal aid, had an impact on disclosure?

2. How do the current policies, rules and procedures on disclosure operate in practice and are there any practical barriers to them working effectively? 

  • What is the normal practice of Police and the CPS in reviewing and disclosing evidence and what, if any, are the barriers to this working effectively? Are reviews and disclosures carried out at the right level, is training and guidance appropriate, and is there sufficient oversight of decisions?
  • What is the normal practice of the defence in making disclosure requests, and of the courts in dealing with applications for prosecution disclosure and setting timetables, and what (if any) are the barriers to these procedures working effectively?
  • How has Transforming Summary Justice changed disclosure practices in the magistrates’ courts and how effectively does this work in practice?
  • How frequent are applications for disclosure of sensitive material, and how are they handled by the prosecution, the defence and the courts in practice?

3. What improvements (if any) are needed to improve disclosure and ensure that fair trial rights are protected? 

  • What would be the resource implications of any changes to policies, rules, procedures, or any changes to operational practices?
  • Do the Police and CPS have credible plans to ensure they are able to respond to the changing nature and volume of evidence, including electronic evidence?

The deadline for submitting written evidence is Wednesday 21 March.

Please note that the Committee may not investigate or intervene in individual cases.

Submissions may make reference to individual cases for illustrative purposes, provided they are not the subject of legal proceedings currently before UK courts.

Further information

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