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Disclosure in Criminal Proceedings

Volume 543: debated on Thursday 26 April 2012

I welcome Lord Justice Gross’s review of “Disclosure in Criminal Proceedings” of September 2011, which the Government have considered in detail.

I understand that the review took approximately a year to complete and that Lord Justice Gross consulted widely with policy experts and practitioners both in this country and abroad. His final report provides an authoritative insight into disclosure issues in cases involving large volumes of investigative material.

The report’s findings underline the complexity and difficulty of the issues raised. I note and understand Lord Justice Gross’s decision not to call for legislative intervention, and his advocacy of more effective application of the existing laws. I welcome his assistance in the work of rationalising and simplifying existing disclosure guidance, which has already commenced with the endorsement of the Law Officers.

The continuing policy objective in this important area is to safeguard fair trials by ensuring the legal framework requires appropriate disclosure to the accused.

At the same time, the resource burden which these arrangements impose on the criminal justice system cannot be ignored. The exponential growth in the volume of material generated by criminal investigations is a matter of increasing concern, particularly where computer, CCTV and internet material are concerned. In some cases, the amount of material generated is now so great that it is no longer humanly possible to review it by traditional means.

With these realities in mind, the coalition Government will work to establish if there are ways to mitigate the resource burden imposed by disclosure, but only in such a way that fair trials are preserved.

Proactive prosecution and judicial case management are both essential to sound disclosure practice, as are the appropriate sanctions for disclosure failures. I have therefore asked for a more detailed examination of the judiciary’s existing case management powers and sanctions for disclosure failures, and consideration of whether there are options for strengthening them that have not so far been identified. I am grateful to Lord Justice Gross and Mr Justice Treacy for agreeing to lead this work, and will report back to Parliament in due course.