HC Deb 27 February 1997 vol 291 cc291-2W
Mr. Sykes

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will make a statement on the provisions on the retention of case papers in the code of practice prepared under the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996. [18375]

Mr. Howard

I published a draft code on 4 July 1996 for consultation, modified it in the light of representations received, and laid it before Parliament on 18 December. The draft code required each chief police officer to develop his own policy on the retention of case papers, taking account of certain specified criteria. I received representations that the code should prescribe a national policy on this issue so that each police force followed the same practice. The version of the code which I laid before Parliament on 18 December contains a national policy in that it requires each police force to retain all material obtained by the police in the course of a criminal investigation which might be relevant to the investigation at least until the conclusion of the trial; and if the case resulted in a conviction following a not guilty plea, to retain the material for a further minimum period of one year following summary conviction or three years following conviction on indictment.

At present, police forces are not subject to any statutory requirement to retain material for any specified period. Each police force has its own policy and there is no common practice. The effect of the provisions in the code is to increase protection for defendants by inserting a statutory minimum retention requirement where none exists at present. These provisions leave untouched the current ability of the police to retain material for any length of time beyond that. In very serious and high-profile cases, I would expect the police to continue to retain material for a long time, as they have tended to do under the informal arrangements which currently exist.

Nevertheless, in the light of concerns expressed recently about these provisions, I have concluded that the interests of justice would be better served by an alternative set of requirements. Accordingly, I intend to amend the code of practice so as to require the police to retain material at least until the end of the trial and then, in the event of a conviction, either until the convicted person is released from custody, if the court imposes a custodial sentence, or until six months from the date of conviction, if the court imposes a non-custodial sentence. Where a convicted person is given a short custodial sentence and would be released within six months of conviction, material would still have to be retained for at least six months. If an appeal is in progress at the end of one of these periods, or an application is being considered by the Criminal Cases Review Commission, the period will be extended until the appeal is concluded or the commission makes a decision on the application.

I will lay an amended code of practice before Parliament today.