Disclosure reform 'threatens equality'

THE GOVERNMENT'S disclosure reform plans would probably infringe the European Convention on Human Rights if enacted, the campaign group Justice has warned.

In its response to Home Secretary Michael Howard's consultation paper on disclosure, the group attacks what it sees as a distinct prosecution bias.

And it says plans to limit disclosure by the prosecutor to the defence will erode the balance between the two sides in breach of European Court of Human Rights' rulings.

The document goes on to defend the defence lawyer's role in the criminal justice system, accusing the consultation of adopting a negative approach.

“In contrast with the 'integrity', 'professionalism' and 'judgment' of the prosecuting authorities, the defence is presented as a barrier to the process, rather than an essential part of it,” the document says.

Justice does, however, recognise the need for a statutory disclosure regime. But it argues the defence should have access to all non-sensitive material held by the prosecution while decisions over sensitive material should be made by the courts, not the prosecutor.

Director Anne Owers said: “The Government's proposals would seriously imbalance the equality of arms between the prosecution and the defence.

“We do not want to lurch back to the situation were the prosecution held all the cards and knows when and where to play them.”