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Chapter 20: Pre-trial Meetings with Witnesses

Introduction

20.1. Where a pre trial meeting takes place between prosecution witnesses, if evidence and/or the prosecution case is discussed, this is likely to be the subject of judicial criticism.

20.2. Two Court of Appeal cases (R v Arif TLR 22 June 1993 and R v Skinner 99 Cr. App R 212) refer to such meetings. The following guidance seeks to ensure that witnesses' evidence is not excluded by the courts by reason of a failure to adhere to the recent Court of Appeal guidelines.

20.3. The Youth Justice & Criminal Evidence Act 1999 provides certain 'special measures' to assist witnesses to give their evidence. In order to implement these measures, pre trial meetings between the prosecutor, the police and vulnerable or intimidated witnesses and supporters, may be required. These meetings are held specifically to deal with the requirements of individual vulnerable or intimidated witnesses. They are not held in order to facilitate discussion of the evidence the witness will give. Records of such meetings will be made. (See paragraphs 20.11 to 20.13 below).

Pre-trial meetings

20.4. Meetings between witnesses (including police officers) involved in a case in order to discuss the evidence to be given, or to rehearse it, are not permitted. Furthermore, witnesses must not be coached in the giving of their evidence.

20.5. This principle applies equally to waiting time at court. Witnesses who are gathered for the purpose of a trial should not discuss the evidence, prior to any of them giving their evidence. Officers should take care to ensure that the circumstances in which they wait to be called to give evidence are not liable to be misinterpreted.

20.6. Pre-trial meetings, in advance of the hearing date, between officers involved in a case may be justifiably held if their purpose is to ensure that the necessary witnesses, exhibits or case papers etc, will be readily available at the trial.

20.7. Such meetings should be authorised by the officer in charge of the investigation, or the officer in charge of the investigation in major enquiries. That officer should be present to supervise the meeting and to explain its purpose to those attending. A record should be made showing when and why the meeting was held, what was discussed and who was present. The record should be revealed to the CPS in accordance with this manual.

20.8. Original evidence should be secure to ensure its integrity. Officers who supervise meetings will need to ensure that witnesses do not have access to written statements, particularly those of other witnesses.

20.9. Nothing in this notice prevents individual officers from refreshing their memories about a case from their contemporaneous notes (or civilian witnesses reading their statements) before giving evidence.

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Case conferences with members of the CPS or with counsel

20.10. Case conferences with members of the CPS or with the Bar do not appear to be affected by the rulings in Arif and Skinner. Officers will be advised by CPS representatives of any necessary action.

Meetings between prosecutors and vulnerable or intimidated witnesses

20.11. Police officers and prosecutors involved in a meeting with a vulnerable or intimidated witness, to discuss special court measures to enable the witness to give best evidence, should be aware of and comply with the principles set out in the document 'Early Special Measures Meetings between the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service and Meetings between the Crown Prosecution Service and Vulnerable or Intimidated Witnesses: Practice Guidance.'

20.12. Paragraph 55 of the Guidance states that there is to be no discussion with the witness as to the evidence in the case.

20.13. Paragraphs 57-59 of the Guidance provide that a record of the meeting with the witness is to be made and that the record will be disclosed to the defence unless it contains sensitive material.

Direct communication with victims (DCV)

20.14. Where letters are generated as a result of the DCV initiative, and the case to which they relate remains live (i.e. because the charge is reduced or because there are co-accused) DCV letters do not come within the ambit of unused material covered by the CPIA 1996 and therefore should not routinely be disclosed to the defence. Given the nature of the initiative, it is unlikely that the letters would contain any material/information which will satisfy either of the disclosure tests set out under the CPIA 1996 in any events.

20.15. However, prosecutors should be mindful, as part of their duty of continuing review, of the need to keep disclosure issues under consideration, particularly where a letter generates a response from a victim or witness, either orally or in writing. Any such response must be communicated to the disclosure officer to include on the appropriate schedule and thereafter handled in accordance with the CPIA 1996. Further guidance regarding DCV practice can be found in the DCV Manual.

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