A practitioner group is challenging what it claims to be ‘repeated’ failures by prosecutors to disclose information on time by issuing a step-by-step guide for criminal defence solicitors.
The Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association’s ‘protocol on prosecution inadequate or late disclosure’, published this week, has been adopted ‘due to the repeated failure of the prosecution to serve inadequate initial details of their case… and also to deal with late disclosure by the prosecution or failure to comply with time limits for service of evidence’.
CLSA chair Zoe Gascoyne (pictured) told the Gazette that every lawyer she knew was experiencing the same problems ‘day in, day out’.
She recalled: ‘Last week I attended at court with a defendant on bail who had no previous convictions and for whom the effect of a conviction is life changing.
‘I requested a copy of the complainant’s statement in advance of the first hearing and received an email refusing to disclose the same. There can be no good reason for refusing to serve a statement which is on file and capable of disclosure.’
Gascoyne said lawyers were being forced into a position where ‘they are expected to advise clients in relation to life-changing cases without proper disclosure and it is time that it stopped’.
The protocol outlines five steps that defence practitioners should take should there be any issues around disclosure that make it difficult to provide ‘proper advice’.
Gascoyne said the protocol was discretionary but in place to provide a ‘support mechanism’.
She said: ‘No lawyer should ever be forced into advising a client to enter a plea to an offence without sight of some evidence particularly when it is in the possession of the prosecution and there is no good reason for non-service.’
Law Society president Jonathan Smithers endorsed the protocol. He said: ‘Where the Crown Prosecution Service, contrary to the rules, has provided insufficient information about a case to enable defence solicitors and advocates properly to advise their client, this protocol will remind practitioners of the rules and the practical guidance contained in the Law Society’s practice note.’
A spokesperson for the Crown Prosecution Service said the CPS follows the Criminal Procedure Rules when serving witness statements and evidence.
The spokesperson added: ‘In order to ensure that cases are efficient and timely, a streamlined case file is prepared by the prosecution when a guilty plea is anticipated in magistrates cases.
‘This file includes a case summary, victim personal statement and key witness evidence if necessary, to explain or supplement the case summary, or if it may impact on sentencing.’