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CPS: Disclosure of Evidence

Volume 787: debated on Monday 18 December 2017

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the Attorney General, in his statutory supervisory role over the Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales, will take steps to satisfy himself that, in carrying out their work, the Crown Prosecution Service have adequate resources to fully disclose all relevant evidence that might support a defendant’s case, or undermine the prosecution’s.

My Lords, prosecutors are obliged to disclose relevant material that could assist the defence case. That obligation is not determined by issues of cost. The Crown Prosecution Service is considering with the police a recent independent review by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of the CPS of disclosure policies and practice.

My Lords, the then chairman of the Bar Council, Ms Heather Hallett QC, complained as far back as 1998 about non-disclosure. I believe I took steps to put matters right. Matters seem to have gone backwards since then. In the light of recent events, will the Attorney-General set up an independent inquiry, headed by a judge, to examine whether disclosure rules are being complied with, to ensure the timely delivery of justice?

My Lords, disclosure in the context of criminal cases has not gone backwards since 1998. There is no present intention to set up an inquiry of the type referred to by the noble and learned Lord.

My Lords, I think we can all agree that early and adequate disclosure is at the heart of a fair criminal justice system. Given that the senior independent prosecutor at the Bar who averted a recent miscarriage of justice, in addition to being a senior and experienced prosecutor, is a former Conservative MP, who described a system “creaking” for lack of resources, will the Minister please consider my noble and learned friend’s request and, in any event, return to this House with a Statement after more full and adequate consideration of what happened here?

My Lords, the matter to which the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, alludes was a recent case in which the Crown withdrew and the matter did not proceed. There is to be a joint internal review by the CPS and the police to determine what occurred in that case. With regard to the case that she alludes to, the CPS has acknowledged that its standards may have fallen below what is expected and it has apologised to all the parties involved.

My Lords, one of the problems is that there is a great deal more to disclose than there once was in terms of the number of records that are kept. However, does not the obligation go both ways? Not only must the prosecution make sure that everything is available to the defence, but defence lawyers must make sure that every single piece of relevant information is disclosed to them and that it is analysed properly for the benefit of their client, which places a considerable burden on them. Is my noble and learned friend satisfied that adequate resources, by way of legal aid or otherwise, are made available to enable them to do this?

I am obliged to my noble friend. It is of course important that the defence has the opportunity and the means to consider what requests should be made of the prosecution in the context of disclosure. Indeed, in the context of the case alluded to earlier, that point will be addressed.

Could the review also look into this simple question? It is reported that it took 14 months for this young man to be charged, which means that he was on bail uncharged for 14 months. What on earth is the reason for that?

My Lords, I am not able to determine why the charge took as long as it did in that case. I appreciate that investigations take longer in some cases than they do in others, but I cannot—

I wonder whether noble Lords wish me to continue. I am obliged to the Opposition Benches. To give an example, there are instances in which a considerable amount of digital data relevant to a particular complaint have to be considered.

My Lords, in the case of Liam Allan, it was fairly obvious that this material should have been looked at, and what happened was either the result of lack of resources in the police service or in the Crown Prosecution Service or a deliberate attempt to pervert the course of justice. Can the Minister estimate how many people are unlawfully imprisoned as a result of similar mistakes having occurred in the past?

I believe that the noble Lord probably knows the answer to his own question. Nevertheless, the alternatives that he advances do not exhaust the issue of why, if it occurred, disclosure was not made at an appropriate time, and that will be the subject of a joint high-level review by the CPS and the police. It is not for me, in this place, to anticipate the outcome of that review.

I do not anticipate that the review itself will be published, but I am confident that its conclusions will be.

My Lords, would not my noble and learned friend acknowledge that there is very widespread concern about this clear near miscarriage of justice? Could he at least say that he understands why people’s confidence in the police service has been significantly undermined?

My Lords, again, I am not going to anticipate the outcome of the review that will be undertaken jointly by the CPS and the police in respect of this case.

My Lords, why is it that the full detail of the internal review should not be published, given the public interest in the matter?

My Lords, at this stage it is anticipated that the conclusions of any review will be published, but it is not usual or normal for the full terms of an internal review to be put into the public domain.

My Lords, will the review look at the culture of “sales targets” within the police—as it was described by the person in this case—as an issue?

My Lords, I am not familiar with the term “sales targets” in this context. Clearly, a balancing exercise has to be carried out to ensure that, particularly in cases of this kind, complainants are able to come forward uninhibitedly and, equally, that anyone complained against is given a full and fair opportunity to put forward their defence. However, I reiterate that I am not familiar with the term “sales targets” in this context.

My Lords, will the review take into account past cases in which injustice may have been done because of the failure to disclose information to the defence solicitors?

My Lords, the terms of any review are yet to be determined, but it will be an internal review into the particulars of this case.

But that is where the problem lies. The noble Lord’s question is relevant: what about all the other cases? I have handled a lot of cases over the years in which people have been accused of rape. What about those cases in which a mistake or error of judgment was made?

My Lords, here is a criminal cases review board, which was set up to address the sorts of issue to which the noble Lord refers.

My Lords, would the Minister concede that the reason this case has much wider relevance than the particulars of the individual concerned, however dreadful his circumstances may have been, is that it allows credence to be attached to the notion that there are more examples of injustice against people who are accused of rape than against those who have suffered rape? The review really ought to take that into account.

I note what the noble Baroness says on that matter. I reiterate that it is fundamental that justice is fair to both the accuser and the accused.

My Lords, as I understand it, a recent change in the Crown Prosecution Service is the demise of the disclosure offices, and those duties have been passed back to the police. Barristers are expressing concern about whether the police are adequately resourced or trained to do that. Will my noble and learned friend outline whether that is indeed the case and that there will be a time at which we will review whether that is also having an effect on disclosure?

I am not in a position to say whether that is having an effect on disclosure, but that is why, at the highest levels, the CPS is looking at the outcome of the inspector’s review of the CPS disclosure policies and practice. No doubt that is an aspect of the review that will be taken into account.