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The Role of The Crown Prosecution Service

The Crown Prosecution Service is the government department responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by the police in England and Wales.

As the principal prosecuting authority in England and Wales, we are responsible for:

  • advising the police on cases for possible prosecution
  • reviewing cases submitted by the police
  • determining any charges in more serious or complex cases
  • preparing cases for court
  • presenting cases at court

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Reform of disclosure management following R v Mouncher (Lynette White)

16/07/2013

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, has today published the full report by Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI), undertaken at his request, into disclosure issues that arose in the case of R v Mouncher and others.

In January 2012, at the same time as asking HMCPSI to undertake their inquiry into the handling of disclosure in this case, Mr Starmer also implemented a comprehensive internal review of CPS management of prosecution disclosure in large and complex cases. That review has led to fundamental reforms of the way the CPS handles disclosure. The improvements we have implemented have been recognised by Her Majesty's Inspector and are now embedded as best practice throughout the CPS.

Mr Starmer said: "The importance of proper disclosure cannot be understated. In the most difficult cases, prosecutions will stand or fall on the quality of disclosure, and failings can leave the court with no choice but to acquit defendants who have a case to answer.

"The case of Mouncher and others was an incredibly complicated prosecution, involving close to one million pages of material generated over almost 25 years of criminal proceedings, which failed due to significant issues around disclosure. Having read and carefully considered the report, I have decided that it is in the public interest to publish it in full, without any alteration or redaction."

The report found that some elements of disclosure were not adequately managed from the outset, leading to the prosecution team of police and prosecutors being overwhelmed by the scale and complexity of the disclosure exercise. It also acknowledged that there was no evidence to suggest prosecutors or police acted for any improper reason.

The full report can be downloaded from this site and the CPS's summary of findings and its responses can also be read on this site.

Mr Starmer said: "HMCPSI's report focused on a particular case, but it also identified broader issues, such as the need for a clear disclosure strategy from the outset and effective oversight of the disclosure process. I am pleased that the report's recommendations on disclosure are very much in line with the work that has already been undertaken. The reports of Lord Justice Gross into disclosure have also highlighted the importance of better case management.

"I completely agree that the CPS, in collaboration with the police and judiciary, needed to improve the management of disclosure in large and complex cases. It is clear that treating Mouncher and others as an isolated failing by a particular team would have done nothing to prevent this happening again. That is why I took action when the trial collapsed to address this issue. I am determined that the CPS plays its part to ensure that this situation will not be allowed to happen again."

The following reforms have been embedded into practice across the CPS:

  • Prosecutors with expertise in disclosure will independently review all cases where there is a serious risk of disclosure difficulties and the Chief Operating Officer will ensure that these risks are properly managed.
  • A clear prosecution strategy document will now be prepared before or at the point of charging. This will identify disclosure risks and include an audit trail of important disclosure decisions. 
  • Senior managers will take direct responsibility for their team's handling of disclosure and will report to meetings chaired by the Director of Public Prosecutions.
  • Sue Hemming, Head of CPS Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division, has been appointed as the National Disclosure Champion. Her role will be to disseminate best practice and ensure that it is complied with.
  • When counsel is required to assist with disclosure, only those with substantial experience in disclosure will be selected and they will receive clear instructions from the CPS. Similarly, leading counsel in such cases will be instructed to supervise and assist junior counsel in dealing with disclosure.

The CPS is also taking part in the Disclosure Case Management Initiative led by the Senior Presiding Judge. This pilot scheme draws on experience gained in proactively managing terrorism prosecutions and applies it to other complex cases. Through active engagement in the disclosure process, judges will help to ensure that the disclosure process is properly managed by all parties.

The Association of Chief Police Officers and the CPS are also arranging joint training for police and prosecutors on disclosure management. As police forces store material and make many disclosure decisions, a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities is vital.

Mr Starmer added: "The evidence should determine the outcome of a criminal trial - not problems with disclosure that could have been avoided. These changes have been vital to enable the CPS and our partners in the criminal justice system to properly identify, manage and minimise the risks posed by disclosure."

Ends

Notes to Editors

  1. For media enquiries call the CPS Press Office on 020 3357 0906; Out of Hours Pager 07699 781 926
  2. The DPP has set out what the public can expect from the CPS in the Core Quality Standards document published in March 2010.
  3. The CPS consists of 13 Areas in total, each headed by a Chief Crown Prosecutor (CCP). In addition, there are three specialised national divisions: Central Fraud Division, Special Crime and Counter Terrorism, and Organised Crime. In 2011-2012, The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Department of Health (DoH) prosecution functions were transferred to the CPS. A telephone service, CPS Direct, provides out-of-hours advice and decisions to police officers across England and Wales.
  4. In 2010-2011 the CPS employed around 7,745 people and prosecuted 957,881 cases with 116,898 of these in the Crown Court, and the remaining 840,983 in the magistrates' courts. Of those we prosecuted, 93,106 defendants were convicted in the Crown Court and 727,491 in the magistrates' courts. In total 86% of cases prosecuted resulted in a conviction. Further information can be found on the CPS website.
  5. The CPS, together with ACPO and media representatives, has developed a Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media. This sets out the type of prosecution material that will normally be released, or considered for release, together with the factors we will take into account when considering requests. Read the Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media.