In February this year, as a result of the hard work undertaken by all involved in the disclosure review, the Lord Chancellor and I launched a public consultation on the revised versions of the Attorney General’s Guidelines on Disclosure for investigators, prosecutors and defence practitioners (‘the Guidelines’) and the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 (‘CPIA’) Code of Practice.
In order to show support to all those facing increasing Covid-19 related pressures, the Lord Chancellor and I decided to extend our consultation. We hope that this new deadline will provide enough time for legal professionals, criminal justice partners and those interested to put forward their views on the changes being made.
As it has not been possible to proactively engage with criminal justice partners as originally anticipated, we wanted to take the opportunity to ask you as Members of Parliament, to encourage those with whom you work who may have an interest in this area to provide feedback to our public consultation. This would help us to engage with key professionals and those with experience in disclosure to ensure that the changes we are proposing are as effective as possible.
The consultation will now close on 22 July 2020 and further details can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/consultation-on-revisions-to-the-attorney-generals-guidelines-on-disclosure-and-the-cpia-code-of-practice.
The disclosure of unused material in criminal cases remains a crucial part of ensuring a fair trial takes place and is essential in avoiding miscarriages of justice. Unfortunately, the failure to disclose material promptly has led to the collapse of a number of trials and has impacted the public’s confidence in the administration of the criminal justice system.
It is a priority for this Government to continue to encourage improvements in the disclosure process and to achieve permanent change. It is essential that we ensure there are fair trials for all and that we increase confidence in the criminal justice system.
The Proposed Changes
In November 2018, the Government published a Review of the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Disclosure in the Criminal Justice System, which made a set of recommendations to improve disclosure performance and to address the key challenges of modern disclosure practice. The Review recommended that the Attorney General’s Guidelines on Disclosure required an update in order to truly reflect the challenges of today’s disclosure regime.
The Guidelines provide a set of high level principles on the disclosure of unused material in criminal cases, aimed at assisting investigators, prosecutors and defence practitioners in England and Wales apply the disclosure regime contained in the CPIA Code of Practice.
The changes seek to provide a better representation of the challenges faced by the modern day investigator, prosecutor and defence practitioner. The updated Guidelines address the need for culture change, earlier performance of disclosure obligations, the use of technology and balancing the right to privacy with the right to a fair trial.
This consultation is an opportunity to take a crucial step in the disclosure process, both to deal with issues that have been a long-standing concern and to provide practitioners with the tools they need to handle their disclosure obligations effectively.
The Lord Chancellor and I thank all of those who have engaged with us during the process and we are grateful for the role that you have played in recognising the complex challenges that affect the proper performance of the duty of disclosure.