HL Deb 06 June 1996 vol 572 cc140-1WA
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have reached any conclusions in respect of Sir Richard Scott's recommendations on prosecution procedures.

Baroness Blatch

Sir Richard made eight recommendations concerning prosecution procedures. In essence the recommendations are intended to ensure that in future the prosecution ascertains whether there are any documents held by other government departments and agencies which may not only be relevant to the way it proposes to put its case, but which may also be relevant to the way in which the defence proposes to put the case for the accused, so far as it is known or can be inferred. They also seek to ensure that satisfactory arrangements are in place for recording what is done by the prosecution in this regard (and the responses to their requests of other departments and agencies) and reporting all of this to the defence.

The recommendations are based on the existing law on disclosure but, as Sir Richard recognised, they need to be considered against the provisions in the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Bill (which is awaiting Report stage). The Government believe that the more focused and clearer duties established by the provisions in the Bill and the code of practice (to be promulgated under Part II of the Bill) will address Sir Richard's concerns. To the extent that Sir Richard's recommendations are not already met by the provisions in the Bill, the Government have sought to identify what further action may be necessary.

Part II of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Bill provides that the Secretary of State shall prepare a code of practice for the police designed to secure that information obtained in the course of a criminal investigation and which may be relevant to it is recorded, retained and revealed to the prosecutor for a decision on disclosure. Investigators other than the police will have to comply with any provisions of the code that are relevant to them. The Government have concluded that the draft code of practice should be amended to emphasise the duty on the investigator to explore all reasonable lines of inquiry, including those which might point away from the suspect.

The Government are preparing guidance booklets on disclosure for Government Departments and Crown Servants. The purpose of these booklets is to give guidance on the procedures that should be followed concerning information which may be relevant to the investigation or prosecution of a criminal offence, and advice on the proper response to requests from investigators, prosecutors or the defence. This guidance will, of course, take account of Sir Richard's recommendations, as well as the provisions in the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Bill.

Finally, the Director of Public Prosecutions is reviewing the guidance that she gives to the Crown Prosecution Service on the proper application of the Code for Crown Prosecutors, to ensure that the guidance emphasises the importance of the prosecutor considering whether there are any further reasonable lines of inquiry which in his view should be pursued. Similarly, other departmental prosecuting authorities will review and, where necessary, prepare equivalent guidance for other government prosecutors.

We have placed a paper in the Library, giving a more detailed account of the Government's response to Sir Richard Scott's recommendations on prosecution procedures.