Progress update in meeting the disclosure challenge
Progress in meeting the challenges faced by disclosure has been put under the spotlight today as the latest update on the National Improvement Plan is published.
UPDATE: A new interim Digital Processing Notice will be introduced imminently. This new notice will reflect the Court of Appeal ruling in the case of Bater-James and Mohammed. We will work with the ICO and other stakeholders on a permanent notice and associated practice that will address the ICO’s recommendations in full.
Is it now 15 months since the initial plan was jointly launched between CPS, National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing to make sure the issue was addressed and lasting solutions put in place.
There has been unprecedented commitment from all organisations and 40 of the 42 actions set out in the first stage in the plan were completed within the first year.
There have been successes and challenges – in that time, all CPS prosecutors and more than 93,000 police officers and staff have received updated College of Policing disclosure training. The updated disclosure training package will form part of the revised curriculum which all new recruits into policing will be required to undergo.
A National Disclosure Forum has brought together staff from across the criminal justice system, including from the judiciary and defence advocates to look for practical ways to make tangible improvements.
A revised Code for Crown Prosecutors, to make sure disclosure obligations are considered from the outset has also been published.
In November, work began on the second phase – these are a further 28 actions which is about embedding the changes.
Max Hill, Director of Public Prosecutions said: “The last 15months have been incredibly productive.
“This isn’t just about changing how individual cases are handled, but shifting the whole culture within investigations and prosecutions. Please make no mistake, I am in no way telling you that the problem is solved, the issues with disclosure are long-standing.
“We are rightly shining a light on our working practices like never before and this has led to uncomfortable truths. I want to reassure everybody that we are absolutely committed to putting this right and making sure disclosure is treated as a vital part of every investigation and the preparation of every case for prosecution and trial.”
There has also been some progress made in looking at the specific challenges being faced and how they can be overcome. In particular, the explosion in digital evidence seen in recent years has brought real challenges for investigators and prosecutors.
Work is ongoing to explore how technology can be part of the solution on two fronts, looking at how vast volumes of data in an investigation can be filtered and how the transfer of data from police to CPS to court can be sped up and digitalised.
There have also been changes to how we present our disclosure strategy to the court and the defence. Disclosure Management Documents have been routinely used in terrorism, serious fraud and organised crime cases to identify the prosecution approach to reasonable lines of inquiry, to digital and third party material and any other disclosure issues for the judiciary and the defence.
They are now being used in all rape and serious sexual offences and Complex Crown Court cases and will be extended to other types of Crown Court cases over the course of this year.
Making sure the public understand how their data may be used has been vital too and new consent forms are set to be rolled out in every police force to make sure this is does consistently.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Criminal Justice, Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave said:
“Police have a duty to pursue all reasonable lines of enquiry. Those now frequently extend into the devices of victims and witnesses as well as suspects - particularly in cases where suspects and victims know each other.
“We understand that how personal data is used can be a source of anxiety. We would never want victims to feel that they can’t report crimes because of ‘intrusion’ in their data.
“That’s why a new national form has been introduced, replacing force versions, to help police seek informed consent proportionately and consistently.
“We continue to work with victim groups and the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) to ensure our approach offers the necessary balance between the requirement for reasonable lines of inquiry and the victim’s right to privacy.”
Making sure changes spearheaded nationally are embedded locally is another challenge and the training of staff has been key.
To support them, detailed disclosure learning standards have been published as has guidance and training tools for forces to implement locally. Disclosure champions have also been appointed across forces and the CPS to assist.
Results are being seen and numbers up to the end of March 2019 suggest around half of all police officers and staff in forces across England and Wales have now completed the updated training package.
Chief Constable Mike Cunningham, CEO of the College of Policing said:
“Getting disclosure right is a fundamental part of a fair criminal justice system. We must continue to ensure the criminal justice system works together to achieve sustained improvements to disclosure practice. This will involve cultural change and strong leadership to influence the mind-sets of officers and staff responsible for meeting disclosure requirements.
“We want to ensure officers have access to the best available learning for disclosure and will continue to support leaders and champions across the criminal justice service to achieve this.”