Fresh from being criticised by MPs for showing insufficient leadership over disclosure failures, Crown Prosecution Service chief Alison Saunders has announced changes to a governing code for prosecutors that spells out their obligations.
The CPS is consulting on changes to the Code for Crown Prosecutors, which addresses disclosure issues that have emerged from cases that have collapsed over the past few months.
For instance, prosecutors are also told to consider any change in circumstances that occurs as the case develops, 'including what becomes known of the defence case, and receipt of any unused material that may undermine the prosecution case or assist the defence case, to the extent that the prosecution should not proceed'.
Prosecutors primarily consider the evidence and information supplied by police and other investigators. However, 'the suspect or those acting on his behalf may also submit evidence or information to the prosecutor, before or after charge, to help him inform the prosecutor's decision'.
Although not set out explicitly in the code, the CPS says the proposed changes include ensuring clearer, earlier information about mobile phone evidence is available before a suspect is charged. This includes messages sent by suspects and accusers in cases where the parties know each other.
Prosecutors will also have to consider the degree to which a suspect benefitted financially from an alleged offence when deciding whether to charge them to help courts recover assets such as homes, cars, designer clothes, jewellery or money.
A threshold test enables a suspect 'who presents a substantial danger and bail risk' to be charged and held in custody 'in the expectation that further evidence will be produced by the police'.
Commenting on changes, Saunders said: 'Getting disclosure right is fundamentally important. This is a systemic problem and we are already taking strong action to tackle it. The Code for Crown Prosecutors stands at the heart of any case we deal with, so it is essential it evolves to reflect these changes.
'We are working with the police, defence community and others to drive lasting improvement. It is vital that defendants and complainants have trust in the criminal justice system and the public has confidence in the outcome of court cases.'
The code has been revised seven times since it was published in 1986. It was last revised in 2013. The code sets out a two-stage test that every criminal case must pass before a person is charged: firstly, if there is a realistic prospect of conviction; secondly, whether it is in the public interest to prosecute.
Announcing today's changes, the CPS highlighted that defendants pleaded or were found guilty in 84.1% of the 533,161 cases prosecuted last year. The CPS added that it employes 6,000 staff, 91% of whom worked in positions directly linked to successfully prosecuting cases at court.
The consultation closes on 17 September.