Failures by the police and prosecutors to disclose prosecution evidence are to be the subject of a joint criminal justice inspection, MPs have been told.
Kevin McGinty (pictured), HM chief inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service, told the House of Commons justice select committee yesterday that disclosure was an ‘ongoing problem’.
An inspection had been delayed to enable new disclosure rules to settle in. However, one will take place this year following three recent Court of Appeal cases in which the disclosure process was criticised.
The inspection will be carried out by HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary. Among the cases that will be investigated are rape and historical sexual abuse. Fraud and terrorism cases will not be covered.
McGinty told MPs that the system of disclosure was straightforward, with material needing to be disclosed to the defence that might undermine the prosecution’s case or assist the defence’s case.
‘That’s quite a simple prospect,’ McGinty said. ‘It’s the carrying it out that’s causing the difficulties.’
McGinty said it would be useful to work out ‘what is happening on the ground’, though he highlighted that there was plenty of anecdotal detail available. ‘Whenever I speak to any Crown court judge and they find out what my job is, I will get a long explanation about how disclosure is simply not working in the Crown court.’
Last month the Criminal Law Solicitors Association challenged what it claimed to be repeated failures by prosecutors to disclose information on time by issuing a step-by-step guide for criminal defence solicitors.
McGinty said the review will enable inspectors to work out ‘exactly how big a problem’ exists. ‘We need to ensure that what the police is providing the CPS is up to standard, that they’re doing the role they’re supposed to be carrying out, [and ensure] the CPS is doing what they’re supposed to be doing.’
Another difficulty the inspection will address is the large amount of unused material that may exist in a case. Barrister Alex Chalk, Conservative MP for Cheltenham, asked how inspectors plan to ‘go hunting for things that have not been recorded’.
McGinty said inspectors had access to a lot of material, adding that there were sometimes indications later on in a process ‘which suggest something has been in the possession of the police or should have been in the possession of police, which will allow us to check’.
Efforts to digitise the criminal justice system have led to ‘some real landmarks’, the committee also heard. Nearly all magistrates’ court work is now digital, and magistrates have access to the same information as advocates.
McGinty said: ‘Because the files are now digital, CPS areas which are more pressed or finding it more difficult to use staff can have their cases looked at by CPS staff in different areas. The south-east team has work done for them by [lawyers and administrative staff] in the north-east.’
Discussing HM CPS Inspectorate’s resources, McGinty said he was in the process of carrying through some redundancies following an internal review of staffing arrangements.
He said a ‘danger area’ for him was if a member of staff became ill or took another job, as it takes up to two years to train an inspector.