Profession slams disclosure rethink

BOTH arms of the legal profession have hit out at the inclusion of new disclosure rules in the Queen's Speech claiming they will “undoubtedly unbalance the criminal justice system”.

The rules, one of the main points of the new Criminal Procedure and Investigations Bill, will give police and prosecutors more control over evidence which is disclosed to the defence team.

As the Bill stands, defence lawyers will also be forced to disclose more of their case at an earlier stage, while prosecutors appear able to hold back.

But both the Bar Council and the Law Society are arguing against the Bill, saying vital safeguards must be built in to protect the innocent.

They favour the introduction of a clause forcing the prosecution to submit a signed schedule of material.

“The proposed reforms ignore recent highly-publicised miscarriages of justice and will undoubtedly unbalance the criminal justice system and lead to more wrongful convictions rather than less,” said Robert Roscoe, chair of the Law Society's criminal law committee.

“Our grave concern is that the existing duty of the Crown to disclose relevant information to the defence will be severely curtailed with potentially disastrous results.”

James Goudie QC, chair of the Bar Council's law reform committee, said proposals which “seek to learn lessons from the recent past” had already been put to the Home Secretary by lawyers.

“The bottom line must be that the prosecution should not be exposed to the temptation not to provide the defence with material which may prove the innocence of the defendant.”