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Disclosure of Evidence

Volume 720: debated on Thursday 20 October 2022

1. What recent steps he has taken to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of disclosure of evidence. (901755)

It is an honour to serve as Attorney General for the second time, and to lead a legal profession that is the envy of the world and a Government Legal Department whose integrity is an example to multiple jurisdictions. I am very proud to hold that position. I also welcome the Solicitor General, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole (Michael Tomlinson), to his place.

In May, this Government published the review of disclosure and amended the disclosure guidelines to deliver improvements for police, prosecutors and the victims of crime. The new guidelines feature an annex on data protection that will ease the burden on police, leaving them with more time on the beat and to investigate crime.

Within Northumberland, there has been a review that highlights multiple failings in multi-agency communication, and states that lessons have been learned. However, I have been contacted by constituents, and it appears that similar failings are still happening. Will my right hon. and learned Friend please reassure me and the people of Blyth Valley that steps are being taken to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of disclosure?

My hon. Friend is quite right: disclosure is a very important issue, whether in Northumberland or any other part of this jurisdiction. Updated principles on accessing third-party material have strengthened privacy protections for victims, and mandate that officers must have clear written reasons in place before accessing any material such as, for example, therapy notes. My hon. Friend has made an important point about communication between the criminal justice agencies, and we are ensuring that that continues to improve apace.

The Minister will know that this is a very important matter in terms of miscarriages of justice. The Chairman of the Justice Committee, the hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill), and I chair the all-party parliamentary group on miscarriages of justice. Will he look at other countries’ good practice on this, especially the United States?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. We are always looking and willing to look at how other jurisdictions practise in this sphere. Of course, it is a problem across western jurisdictions, because people now carry on their person so much more data capacity than ever before, which opens up a wide array of questions as to disclosure. The amended disclosure guidelines unequivocally state that indiscriminate access to personal records should never occur, and it is worth noting that the volume of suspects charged has continued to increase quarter on quarter, with a rise from 526 to 550 in quarter 3. That is an increase of 4.6%, so we are moving in the right direction on charges.