Joint National Disclosure Improvement Plan – June update
In January 2018 the CPS, National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing released the Joint National Disclosure Improvement Plan. 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.
Key NDIP actions implemented so far:
Extended the use of Disclosure Management Documents
The CPS has developed best practice from the current serious casework process and extended this to other Crown Court cases. Disclosure Management Documents are routinely used in terrorism, serious fraud and organised crime cases to identify the prosecution approach to disclosure for the judiciary and the defence. This ensures disclosure issues are dealt with early. They are now being used by the CPS in all rape and serious sexual offences (RASSO) and complex Crown Court cases. Their effectiveness in these cases will be measured at the conclusion of a pilot period.
Setting out reasonable lines of enquiry
In all rape and serious sexual assault investigations and in all complex cases, we have introduced an additional section on the form used by police when they submit a request for a charging decision to the CPS (commonly called an MG3). Officers are now asked to identify to the prosecutor what they consider to be reasonable lines of enquiry and to identify the electronic material that has been seized and their investigative approach to it. This will be used to identify and agree between the police and the prosecution how issues such as social media evidence will be approached and handled at the pre-charge stage wherever possible, or immediately post-charge.
It is essential that disclosure issues are addressed at the pre-charge stage where possible, particularly what should be considered reasonable lines of enquiry in each case.
The recently released training products from the College of Policing comprise a bespoke disclosure course that focuses on reasonable lines of enquiry and makes clear that disclosure is an integral part of an investigation from the start.
CPS Disclosure Champions have been established in all Crown Court and Magistrates’ Court teams. These champions support Chief Crown Prosecutors to complete disclosure assurance and lead training in their Areas.
To support the CPS champions, the police are establishing a complementary network of champions. They will be led at chief officer level in each force and their work will be coordinated by superintendents/chief superintendents. The College is organising a series of briefing events, enabling each force to nominate around 10 champions to receive information about disclosure and how to support their colleagues in dealing with disclosure issues.
The champions’ networks will work closely together, across organisations, helping to improve and maintain disclosure standards.
The Disclosure Manual for CPS prosecutors has been refreshed and training material reviewed to ensure that it is accurate and elements which were outdated have been removed. The Disclosure Manual will be further revised when improvements included as part of the National Disclosure Improvement Plan are introduced.
The Attorney General is conducting a review of disclosure, including a review of the current legislation, Codes of Practice and guidelines. This review is expected to be completed in the coming months and the Disclosure Manual will be updated to reflect any changes or recommendations.
National Disclosure Forum
Disclosure is a systemic issue across the whole of the criminal justice system, and there are important roles for the police, the prosecution, the defence and the court in ensuring it is done properly. We are engaging with criminal justice system stakeholders in regular meetings of the multi-agency National Disclosure Forum to ensure that improvements are working in practice. The Forum is encouraging discussion about what solutions look like for all parties involved, as well as generating feedback on the work underway to make sure we are getting it right.
These meetings include representatives from the Law Society, the Bar Council and Criminal Bar Association, defence solicitors and the judiciary, and are jointly chaired by the CPS and police.
Joint local disclosure improvement plans
In addition to the national plan, each of the 14 CPS Areas has agreed a joint local disclosure improvement plan with all of the police forces they work with. These plans set out how disclosure improvements will be addressed at a local level.
Getting disclosure right is a priority for the CPS and the police, and we continue to work together to find solutions to the issues that exist throughout the entire criminal justice system.
A third party material protocol between police and the CPS
Duties of disclosure under the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 (CPIA) and the Code of Practice are imposed upon two categories of persons only: the investigator and the prosecutor. All other categories of persons are to be treated as third parties, rather than as belonging to the prosecution team.
Third parties frequently encountered in a criminal investigation will include owners of CCTV material, social services departments, schools, medical practitioners and mobile telephone providers.
The third party material protocol draws together the agreement between the CPS and the police to use standard correspondence and forms on a national basis regarding third party material. This includes a letter to be sent to third parties asking them to identify material they may hold, a pro-forma reply for third parties to use to respond, an index of material requested and a viewing log of the material inspected.
National disclosure standards
A National Disclosure Standard document has been drafted. This document contains a statement of the national standards for the completion of the MG6 schedules of unused material in the Crown Court and the Streamlined Disclosure Certificate for use in magistrates’ courts and sets out the process for the provision of schedules. The Standard will be subject to annual review and can be amended to reflect any new practice.
In April, the College of Policing released new training for all forces to use. This training takes account of the ongoing and significant changes in disclosure practice as a result of the increasing use and relevance of digital media and material. In addition, the College has issued learning standards to assist forces to equip their officers with the knowledge they need to carry out their disclosure duties - the College training product supports those standards and forces are able to augment it with local training that takes account of specific criminal justice processes and working relationships in each area.
A number of events for disclosure champions will be held from May 2018 across the country so that every police force and CPS Area has a cohort of well-informed individuals to assist colleagues to fulfil their disclosure duties.
Joint Technology Working Group
A joint technology working group with representatives from the CPS and Police has been set up to explore the use of a range of digital tools to assist in the review of digital material.