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Criminal Justice System: Disclosure between Parties

Volume 706: debated on Thursday 6 January 2022

7. What recent steps she has taken to improve working practices on disclosure between all parties in the criminal justice system. (904920)

Effective disclosure is a vital part of the criminal justice process, and it is inseparable from the right to a fair trial. The Attorney General is now undertaking the first annual review of the disclosure guidelines to ensure that this complex area is continually monitored and that issues that can have such profound implications for securing justice for victims are identified and resolved.

I entirely agree with the Solicitor General that providing defendants with full disclosure of the evidence against them is extremely important, but it is also vital to ensure that police are not taken away from their frontline duties by overly bureaucratic requirements. Currently, for example, local officers in Aylesbury have to spend many hours redacting video evidence they send to the CPS before a charging decision is made just in case it is eventually shared with the defence. What can be done to reduce this burden so that police can be where they are most needed, which is on the streets?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for once again raising a really powerful point. In my discussions with police officers up and down the country, this issue of redaction has arisen again and again, and he is right that this is creating a serious administrative burden that absorbs resources that could profitably be deployed elsewhere. That is why I can assure him that this issue is receiving very close and current attention, and I expect to say more on that shortly.

While the digital data extraction forms that were imposed on survivors of rape are now, thankfully, a thing of the past, the culture that led to their introduction by the CPS and the police is, sadly, not. Could I ask the Attorney General how she is ensuring that women who come forward to report being raped receive the dignity, privacy and respect to which they are entitled?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. It is incredibly important that when complainants are brave enough to make these allegations, they are not then subject to intrusive, unnecessary and disproportionate disclosure inquiries. Getting that balance right is extremely difficult. There is clear guidance in the Attorney General’s guidelines, and the case of Bater-James and Sultan Mohammed is there as well, but we need to go further to make sure that correct, proportionate and fair decisions are made.

Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. It is a pleasure to be shadowing the Solicitor General—we have missed him in Shepherd’s Bush.

Last month the Court of Appeal ruled the conviction of Ziad Akle, prosecuted by the Serious Fraud Office, unsafe because there was a material failure of disclosure that significantly handicapped the defence. The court described this as a serious failure by the SFO to comply with its duty and said it was particularly regrettable given that some of the documents withheld had a clear potential to embarrass the SFO. It is difficult to imagine a more damning series of judgments on a prosecuting authority. The Attorney General, having recently expressed full confidence in the director of the SFO, has belatedly announced an inquiry, but the Attorney General superintends the SFO and her office line-manages the director, so will the Solicitor General confirm that this inquiry will be fully independent so that it can examine the Attorney General’s own role in this fiasco as well as that of the SFO and the director?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question and for his kind welcome. That judgment was a significant one and we take it extremely seriously, but he is wrong to say that there was a delay, because the Attorney General moved very swiftly to institute a far-ranging and sweeping inquiry. That will take place, and it will take its time because we will need to consider extremely carefully what emerges from it. The SFO is an important prosecuting authority; it needs to do its job properly and fairly, and we will make sure it does exactly that.