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CPS still plagued by disclosure failings, watchdog finds

By Jemma Slingo

The Crown Prosecution Service’s disclosure of evidence is still sub-standard despite ‘early signs of improvement’, inspectors report today.

HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI), a watchdog for the CPS and the Serious Fraud Office, assessed how well the CPS is complying with its duty to disclose unused material (i.e evidence gathered but not replied upon by the prosecution).

The watchdog found that, while aspects of the CPS’s performance ‘show continuous improvement’, in some areas the baseline performance was ‘very low, and although there was progress there is still a long way to go before an acceptable standard is reached’.

The inspection found that the CPS has got better at advising the police about reasonable lines of enquiry and has improved its compliance with prosecutors’ post-charge duty of initial disclosure.

However the report says that in more than half of the criminal cases that were sampled the CPS’s charging advice did not properly deal with unused material. Meanwhile, in just 16% of cases where police performance was sub-standard did prosecutors identify the failing and feed this back at the charging stage.

Caroline Goodwin QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, said there is still cause for ‘serious concern’.

‘If this report had given the equivalent of an Ofsted grading for a school it would still, tragically, not move out of the bottom ranked “failing”,’ Goodwin said. ‘Criminal defence barristers are still not paid for the many hours spent examining unused material…It is this task, within what the inspectorate reveals as a still failing system due to starved and inadequately trained professionals at both police and CPS, that is often the difference between liberty and imprisonment.’

The report stressed the importance of resourcing, stating: ‘Over the past few years HMCPSI has… found fault with the CPS and identified areas where it could improve. Almost without exception, those faults have been caused or exacerbated by the problem of too few legal staff being spread too thinly over a volume of work of ever increasing complexity.’

Amanda Pinto QC, chair of the Bar Council, said the report was ‘not reassuring’.

‘Despite help from the bar and solicitors to improve disclosure in all cases from the smallest to the most complex, there is more to do. There still needs to be more investment in people, training and resources in the police, the CPS and the criminal justice system generally, to tackle the pervasive problems with disclosure,’ she said.

(Courtesy: Law Gazette Society)

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