The APCC has welcomed the Justice Committee’s inquiry into disclosure in criminal trials and has criticised recent failures of prosecution disclosure. However, it has urged the committee to also inquire into the issue of whether there is inappropriate disclosure of complainants’ intimate counselling notes, social services, health and education reports in sex offence cases. In addition, the APCC points out that failures of prosecution disclosure have occurred in many kinds of cases as recent trafficking and fraud cases collapses have shown.
The cross-party APCC Victims group have written to the Committee’s Chair, Bob Neill MP, raising concerns that current disclosure practices, and the drive to improve disclosure practices, risk undermining complainants’ Article 8 rights.
Currently, complainants of sexual offences are urged to sign a ‘Stafford statement’ consenting to disclosure ‘insofar as necessary for a fair trial’ However, evidence on the ground suggests that even when officers are confident that they have pursued all reasonable lines of inquiry, they are often being told by CPS to pursue all other available sources. In signing the statement complainants may be precluding any practical consideration of their Article 8 rights.
APCC Victims lead, Dame Vera Baird QC PCC said:
“We welcome this inquiry as an opportunity to thoroughly examine all aspects of disclosure – recent failures in this area are of real concern. In doing so we need to ensure that complainants are not discouraged from coming forward to report sexual offences by inappropriate ‘fishing’ into personal records, access to which is demanded in no other kind of case. This remains a very sensitive area of criminal justice with low conviction rates.
“The need for disclosure to the defence of appropriate relevant material must not mean, for instance, that all personal mobile phone data, which may concern information about other relationships is disclosed wholesale with the potential for more rape myths and stereotypes to play a role.”
APCC Deputy Victims lead, Marc Jones PCC said:
“The current procedures around disclosure often means that complainants are not prepared to have their personal records accessed and will withdraw their complaints, with others put off complaining when they know such disclosure will follow. In addition, they will choose not to access support services straight away – leaving them in a state of trauma for longer than necessary.”
- The letter to Justice Committee Chair, Bob Neill MP, is available here.
- The Home Office recently funded Northumbria from the VAWG Service Transformation Fund, to pilot Complainants’ Advocates’ in sex cases. This role is currently being scoped, but part of it will involve challenging cases of over-disclosure of complainants’ personal material.