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Crown Prosecution Service (Evidence)

Volume 540: debated on Tuesday 7 February 2012

7. What recent assessment he has made of the management and disclosure of evidence by the Crown Prosecution Service. (93677)

9. What recent assessment he has made of the management and disclosure of evidence by the Crown Prosecution Service. (93679)

The effective management and disclosure of evidence relies on the proper discharge of duties and obligations by both the police and the prosecutor. Although there have been failures in a small number of cases, in the vast majority of cases the disclosure duties are carried out well.

As the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) will know, there is currently an inquiry into the Lynette White case in south Wales, more properly called the Crown v. Mouncher and others. The Independent Police Complaints Commission is carrying out a review of police conduct in that case, and the Director of Public Prosecutions has separately and additionally asked the inspectorate of the Crown Prosecution Service to carry out a review of the actions and decision making of the CPS in relation to disclosure in that case.

It took nearly 10 years and cost the taxpayer about £30 million to bring eight former South Wales police officers to court on charges of perverting the course of justice and fabricating evidence. The case collapsed when the key documents were thought destroyed, but they have now been found. I thank the Attorney-General for his answer, but what assessment has the CPS made of the prospects of a future prosecution?

I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) has said: there is considerable shock at the conduct of this case, in south Wales and elsewhere. In the past, there have been a particularly high number of miscarriages of justice under the South Wales police force. Is the Attorney-General aware of any other similar cases in which the disappearance and re-emergence of key evidence has led to a retrial?

Off the top of my head, I am not aware of any such cases, but the right hon. Lady is right to point out that the collapse of the Lynette White case in south Wales just recently, which affects her constituents and neighbours and those of the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), is a matter of huge regret. It is now being subjected to two inquiries. Once they have been completed, further announcements will be made.

Is not the lesson of the disclosure debacle in the Lynette White case this: when criminal allegations are made against police officers in one police force, disclosure should be handled by officers from an entirely independent police force? Will my hon. and learned Friend do all he can to ensure that such reforms take place so that such a disaster does not happen again?

Clearly—particularly in large and complex cases such as the one we are talking about—the need to get disclosure right is key. That is also true, however, in what one might call less serious cases—although I do not want to be misunderstood when I use that adjective. My hon. Friend’s point about other police forces dealing with the disclosure in such cases must, surely, be a matter for the chief constable of the relevant police area. I have no doubt that the Home Secretary, who is sitting beside me, will bear that in mind in due course.