Legal groups win round in battle against disclosure Bill

LEGAL groups opposed to the disclosure reforms in the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Bill have secured amendments in its second reading in the House of Lords.

The Law Society, Liberty, Justice and the Bar Council welcome new requirements on the prosecution.

Under the changes, the prosecution will have to supply the defence with a description of the material which they have not disclosed and the defence will not be compelled to inform the prosecution of the names and addresses of the defence witnesses.

The groups are also encouraged by the proposal to include a code of practice in the Bill to regulate recording of information in a criminal investigation.

Anne Owers, director of Justice, said: “We believe the principles in the code of practice are too central to the aim of the Bill to be separated from it, so we recommend that Parliament also debates the code at committee stage.”

She said: “The aim is to save money for the police force but all that will happen is to transfer costs to the Crown Prosecution Service and legal aid.”

Despite the amendments, the group is still worried about the principles of the Bill.

John Wadham, general secretary of Liberty, said: “Making it easier for the prosecution both to gain access to defence evidence and to withhold information from them is unfair and further tips the balance against the prospects of a fair trial.”

In the debate last week, Lord Taylor said defendants should not be able to make unreasonable demands of the police or the prosecution to make disclosure a tactical ploy or “make fishing expeditions in the hope of fastening upon a red herring or turning up a technical flaw in the prosecution case”.

However, Baroness Mallalieu, a practising barrister at 6 King's Bench walk, said: “If you haven't committed a crime and know that someone else has, you want to see whether there is material which the Crown has which points the finger at who is responsible.”