“The legitimacy of our criminal justice system relies on the process being fair and even-handed. The public rightly expects to see the guilty convicted, but it is equally important to avoid the wrongful conviction of the innocent.”

Alison Saunders, Crown Prosecution Service
Mike Cunningham, College of Policing
Nick Ephgrave, National Police Chiefs’ Council

Disclosure is providing the defence with copies or access to all material that is capable of undermining the prosecution case and/or assisting the defence.

Investigators, prosecutors, defence teams and the courts all have important roles to play in ensuring the disclosure process is done properly, and promptly.

The disclosure process during an investigation:

  • When an allegation is made against someone, the police will begin an investigation. From the outset the police have a duty to record, retain and review material collected during the course of the investigation. The police reveal this material to the prosecution to allow for effective disclosure to the defence.  
  • Disclosure obligations begin at the start of an investigation, and police have a duty to conduct a thorough investigation, manage all material appropriately and follow all reasonable lines of enquiry, whether they point towards or away from any suspect.
  • If police believe there is strong evidence to suggest someone committed a crime they will present evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service, which decides if the person should be charged.
  • When a defendant is charged with an offence the investigator will review all material gathered during an investigation – such as CCTV footage, statements from witnesses, mobile phone messages, social media conversations and photographs.
  • The investigator will decide which items collected as part of an investigation are capable of having a bearing on any issue in the case.  This is called applying the relevance test.
  • Some material will be used in the prosecution and will be part of the case. Some will be irrelevant and have no bearing on the case at all.
  • Other material will be relevant to the investigation but is not part of the case. This is called unused material.  This material is reviewed by the disclosure officer and if any of it may undermine the prosecution case or support the defence it will be disclosed to the prosecutor.
  • Prosecutors must provide the defence with the schedules of all of the unused material and provide them with any material that undermines the case for the prosecution or assists the case for the accused.
  • A defence statement is submitted to the prosecution in Crown Court cases and in some Magistrates’ Court cases, which sets out the defence to the allegations and can point the prosecution to other lines of inquiry. The disclosure officer will then review all of the material held by the investigator and decide whether in the light of the defence statement, additional material is now relevant or meets the test for disclosure because it supports the case for the accused.

Since summer 2017, police, the College of Policing and the Crown Prosecution Service have been working to address the issues and in January 2018 we all committed to a joint action plan, called the National Disclosure Improvement Plan, to make changes.

The plan includes measures to:

  • Create disclosure experts in every police force and CPS area
  • Create a network of champions in every police force to make sure that advice and support is available to all who may need it.
  • Introduce improvement plans for every police force and CPS area
  • Provide all multimedia evidence from the CPS to the defence digitally
  • Update training
  • Set up a system for the CPS and police to better identify and deal with cases with significant and complex disclosure issues.

What is disclosure? Toggle accordion

To help guarantee a fair trial a defendant has the right to be provided with any material which could assist them in defending themselves. They have a right to an open and honest prosecution which reveals any weakness in the case against them. Investigators must pursue all reasonable lines of enquiry and this includes investigating matters which could point towards innocence as well as guilt.

When a defendant is charged with an offence, prosecutors are required to provide the defence with any material that undermines the case for the prosecution or assists the case for the defendant. This could be, for example, CCTV footage, statements from witnesses, mobile phone messages, social media conversations or photographs.

The disclosure officer has specific responsibility in this area during an investigation. The disclosure officer is usually a police officer with responsibility for examining all unused material as it is identified, and ensuring it is scheduled where appropriate.

Scheduling refers to the process of recording the identified material. The purpose of the Disclosure Schedule is to inform the prosecutor of the existence of relevant unused material. The schedule will also be provided to the defence. The test that is applied to scheduling is ‘relevance’. All relevant material must be scheduled unless it is evidence. The definition of relevance is contained within the CIPA Code of Practice as ‘anything that appears to have some bearing on any offence under investigation, or any person being investigated, or on the surrounding circumstances unless it is incapable of having any impact on the case’.

Each item on the schedule must be fully described so that an assessment can be made about whether the item is capable of undermining the prosecution case or assisting the defence.

Where the prosecutor requests that material is disclosed, the defence are given a copy of, or access to, any material which could reasonably be considered capable of undermining the prosecution case or of assisting the case for the accused.

The defendant may serve a defence statement, which is a written statement that sets out the nature of the accused's defence. It must comply with the requirements set out in the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996. Once a defence statement is received, the police have a duty to review all of the material again in light of the nature of the defence being raised. They must reconsider whether there are more ‘reasonable lines of enquiry’ and then further schedule any additional relevant unused material as part of their continuing duty to disclose.

The CPS and the police have a duty to keep disclosure under review throughout the life of a case. If new material comes to light in the lead up to a trial, or during a trial, then that material will be reviewed by prosecutors who will determine if it has any impact on the proceedings. If the new material is deemed to mean that there is no longer a realistic prospect of conviction, then the CPS is obligated to stop proceedings.

Joint National Disclosure Improvement Plan – October update Toggle accordion

In January 2018 the CPS, National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing released the Joint National Disclosure Improvement Plan (NDIP). The plan sets out the actions that we are taking, and will take, to improve how the criminal justice system deals with disclosure.

The plan includes a range of measures that will support police and prosecutors with their disclosure duties, as well as outlining our joint commitment to making clear, effective and sustainable changes and giving them the tools they need to manage all cases to the high standards we all expect.

Police prosecutions are not the only cases where disclosure is important and we will liaise with other prosecuting authorities to make sure we share learning and progress.

Read the latest update on progress on the NDIP (PDF document, approx 280kb).