Today, carrying forward the work of my predecessor, I have published the results of the Government’s review of the efficiency and effectiveness of disclosure in the criminal justice system. This has been laid before Parliament as a Command Paper (Cm 9735), and copies are available in the Vote Office and on gov.uk.
The disclosure of unused material in criminal cases, under the statutory framework of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996, is a central pillar of the right to a fair trial and a fundamental part of our criminal justice system in England and Wales. My review of disclosure builds on the operational response by the police and Crown Prosecution Service to the challenges of disclosure under the National Disclosure Improvement Plan. The review sets out the next phase of reforms to deliver sustainable change for the long term.
The review identifies the following cross-system themes and makes recommendations for improvement in respect of each of them:
1. Primary legislation continues to provide an appropriate disclosure regime, but in practice the system is not working as effectively or efficiently as it should;
2. Practical reinforcement of the duty to make reasonable lines of inquiry and apply the disclosure test correctly;
3. Pursuing a fair investigation and considering disclosure obligations from the outset, rather than as an afterthought;
4. Proportionate “frontloading” of disclosure preparation and performance;
5. Early and meaningful engagement with disclosure issues by the defence and the judiciary;
6. Harnessing Technology;
7. Data and Management Information;
8. Continuous, sustained oversight and improvement.
These themes reflect the systemic nature of the management of disclosure and the importance of everyone involved—including the police, prosecutors and the defence community—playing their part effectively.
Cases that are stopped and convictions that are quashed because of serious deficiencies in disclosure are neither fair to the complainant nor the defendant and they undermine public confidence in the administration of criminal justice. However, while there have been too many cases where disclosure failures have occurred, it is not a problem in all cases. Victims should not be afraid to come forward and we must not undermine the progress made in encouraging people to report offences.
In order to ensure the review’s recommendations are followed through, implementation and oversight will happen under the aegis of the Criminal Justice Board.