Failings have arisen in the application of disclosure
The Attorney General superintends the Crown Prosecution Service, but the Committee states ownership of performance rests with the Director of Public Prosecutions, who did not sufficiently recognise the extent and seriousness of failures.
The report concludes that this was not aided by data collected by the Crown Prosecution Service which may have underestimated the number of cases which were stopped with disclosure errors by around 90%.
Problems with disclosure came into sharp focus following the high-profile collapse of a number of cases between December 2017 and Spring 2018. In the immediate aftermath, the Prime Minister announced that the Attorney General would conduct a review of disclosure which the Committee hopes today’s report will feed in to.
MPs do not recommend any changes to the principles of disclosure, but find that failings have arisen in the application of disclosure by police officers and prosecutors on the ground.
The Committee states there should be a shift in culture towards viewing disclosure as a core justice duty, and not an administrative add-on.
There needs to be the right skills and technology to review large volumes of material that are now routinely collected by the police and clear guidelines on handling sensitive material.
The report concludes that the Government must consider whether funding across the system is sufficient to ensure a good disclosure regime. Delayed and collapsed trials that result from disclosure errors only service to put a further strain on already tight resources.
Failings have caused miscarriages of justice
Chair of the Justice Committee, Bob Neill MP, said:
“Correct disclosure of evidence by the Police and CPS to the defence is fundamental to ensuring a fair trial – but is too often regarded as just an administrative headache. This is not acceptable.
As we’ve seen in high profile cases since last year - disclosure failings are extremely damaging for those concerned and can have a permanent life-long impact.
These failings have caused miscarriages of justice and – as the Director of Public Prosecutions even admitted to us – some people have gone to prison as a result.
The proliferation of electronic evidence makes disclosure ever more challenging, and we need the right skills, technology, resources and guidelines, to resolve this once and for all.
The failings are symptomatic of a system under immense strain: without change, we cannot expect the public to have confidence in the criminal justice system.
We welcome the National Disclosure Improvement Plan, and particularly the commitment of senior police officers we spoke to, and we look forward to reading the Attorney General’s review, but these must deliver much needed improvement. There have been too many reviews of disclosure that have not resulted in real change.”