The Attorney General’s review of the disclosure guidelines does little to redress the shortcomings of the latest guidance, according to the chair of the Police Federation National Detectives’ Forum (PFNDF).
Ben Hudson believes the review fails to mitigate the huge impact the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) guidance, known as DG6, has had on police officers and staff.
He explains: “We appreciate that the Attorney General’s Office Annual Review of Disclosure has been sensitive towards the plight of police officers with regards to the redaction of case material, which is singularly responsible for overburdening case workloads.
“Though the review identifies several ambiguities, including adherence to data protection laws, it does not provide any major action points to redress the shortcomings.
“Instead, it seeks to blame our members’ lack of understanding about the vital role disclosure of case material plays in the criminal justice system. It puts the onus on police forces to make every effort to alter the current culture around disclosure procedures.
“The review accepts that ‘strictly speaking’ redaction and data protection are not direct aspects of CPS Disclosure Guidance. However, in the absence of a uniform code and lack of specific guidance, police officers, investigative officers, detectives and specialist disclosure experts are compelled to devote significant time and resources to the redaction of case material to ensure that data protection laws are adhered to, and personal information is not revealed, even between collaborating agencies.”
The Federation says it is also problematic that the review merely suggests that a single source of authoritative guidance for the redaction of case material passed to the CPS is “preferable” but does not demand it despite identifying an acute need for one.
Commenting on one of the review’s key findings that “the police do not always apply their discretion when offering information for disclosure under the rebuttable presumption” leading to needless redaction obligations, Ben said: “The remit of rebuttable presumption is too wide and impractical for police officers to comply with and to stand the test of disclosure they inadvertently end up redacting enormous volume of case material. This ultimately creates a burden on the CPS and justice delivery system as well as the officers themselves struggling under an impossible workload.”
The Federation has launched a targeted campaign to appeal to the Government to make amendments to the Data Protection Act to simplify the redaction obligations placed on police officers, and calls on the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the College of Policing and the CPS to work with the Federation to ensure all members receive nationally agreed face-to-face training on disclosure procedures.