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Streamlined Forensic Reporting Guidance and Toolkit

Introduction

"The Criminal Procedure Rules give courts explicit powers to actively manage the preparation of criminal cases waiting to be heard, to get rid of unfair and avoidable delays."
(See: Ministry of Justice website)

Streamlined Forensic Reporting (SFR) has been designed to enable investigators, scientists and prosecutors to comply with the Criminal Procedure Rules (The Rules), in the interests of justice.

The Streamlined Forensic Reporting - Guidance (0.8MB Word document) and the Streamlined Forensic Reporting - Toolkit (Step Guide) (1.1MB Word document) have been developed to provide practitioners in the criminal justice system with practical advice on how to progress investigations and prosecutions involving forensic science, fairly and effectively.

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Criminal Procedure Rules

Part 1 of The Rules sets out the overriding objective, which is that Criminal cases be dealt with justly. This includes:

  • acquitting the innocent and convicting the guilty
  • dealing with the prosecution and the defence fairly
  • recognising the rights of a defendant, particularly those under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights
  • respecting the interests of witnesses, victims and jurors and keeping them informed of the progress of the case
  • dealing with the case efficiently and expeditiously

The duty of each participant, in the conduct of each case, includes:

  • prepare and conduct the case in accordance with the overriding objective
  • comply with these Rules, practice directions and directions made by the court

Part 3 of The Rules sets out the duty of the court is to further the overriding objective by actively managing the case, which includes:

  • the early identification of the real issues
  • the early identification of the needs of witnesses
  • achieving certainty as to what must be done, by whom, and when, in particular by the early setting of a timetable for the progress of the case
  • ensuring that evidence, whether disputed or not, is presented in the shortest and clearest way

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Pre-Trial Case Management

The primary purpose of robust pre-trial management is to narrow down the real issues, particularly those of a scientific nature, upon which the jury must decide.

SFR is a revised case management procedure for producing forensic evidence at court and seeks to reduce unnecessary costs, bureaucracy and delays in the criminal justice system. The process takes a more proportionate approach to forensic evidence through the early preparation of a short report that details the key forensic evidence the prosecution intend to rely upon.

The aim is to achieve early agreement with the defence on forensic issues but where this cannot be achieved in the first instance, to identify the contested issues.

Effective use of SFR, as described in Swift and Sure Justice: the government's Plans for Reform of the Criminal Justice System (2012), will lead to:

  • a lower risk of discontinuance, likely to be due to case papers being better prepared and the defence being informed of the evidence at the earliest stage
  • an improvement in the early guilty plea rate, resulting in fewer cases coming to trial unnecessarily, helping to ease the pressure of trial dates and associated costs
  • a reduction in the number of cases requiring additional forensic evidence, saving time and costs associated with gathering this evidence

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Judicial Support for Streamlined Forensic Reporting

The Senior Presiding Judge for England and Wales, the Right Honourable Lord Justice Goldring, supports the national introduction of SFR by saying:

"In short, everything suggests that SFR can deliver significant benefits to the courts, prosecution and defence. Court time is saved. Unnecessary forensic work is avoided. Unnecessary prosecution work is avoided. The defence are better able to focus on the real issues and appropriately advise their clients."

The full text of the Senior Presiding Judge's letter can be found here.

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