Making sure clearer, earlier information about mobile phone evidence is available before a suspect is charged with a crime is part of a raft of proposed changes announced by Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions. This will include mobile phone messages sent by suspects and accusers in cases where the parties are known to each other.
The suggested revisions to the Code for Crown Prosecutors are central to plans aimed at driving improvements in the disclosure of evidence. The Code is an essential document which governs all Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) prosecutions. An eight-week consultation on the proposals has been launched.
“Making sure that disclosure is right is fundamentally important,” stressed Saunders. “This is a systemic problem and we’re already taking strong action to tackle it. The Code for Crown Prosecutors stands at the heart of any case we deal with, so it’s essential that it evolves to reflect these changes. We are working with the police service, the defence community and others to drive lasting improvement. It’s vital that defendants and complainants have trust in the criminal justice system and the public has confidence in the outcome of court cases.”
Under the revised guidelines on disclosure, prosecutors will have to consider whether there’s any material held by the police or material that may be available which could affect the decision to charge a suspect with any crime.
This is the latest measure from the CPS to improve the way in which cases are handled. In January, a joint improvement plan was introduced with the police to better manage disclosure.
Asking prosecutors to take into account the degree to which a suspect benefited financially from an alleged offence when deciding whether to charge them has also been written into the Code for the first time. The changes are aimed at assisting the court in recovering any assets such as homes, luxury cars, designer clothes, jewellery or money.
Funds returned to the public purse
Last year, the CPS helped recover £80.1 million from defendants who benefited from illegal activity and returned the funds to the public purse.
The first edition of the Code was published in 1986. It sets out how every criminal case must pass a two-stage test before a person is charged: first, if there’s a realistic prospect of securing a conviction and, second, whether it’s in the public interest to bring a prosecution.
In 2017, the CPS prosecuted more than 530,000 cases which were charged using the Code. This consultation is for the eighth edition of the guidance.
Revisions to how the Threshold Test is applied are also included in the proposals. The Threshold Test allows a suspect who presents a substantial danger and bail risk to be charged and therefore held in custody in the expectation that further evidence will be produced by the police.
The closing date for public responses to the consultation is Monday 17 September. The final version of the Code will be published later this year.