CPS under pressure to justify evidence ban

Bob Satchwell (left) and police footage of child killer Roy Whiting

Newspapers and broadcasters are to press for a meeting with the Crown Prosecution Service to discuss a ban on access to prosecution material – despite a toning-down of its original draconian guidelines.

Last week, instead of an outright ban on the press receiving video footage and CCTV pictures of criminals and interviews with defendants, the CPS decided that “non-contentious” prosecution evidence could be released, once it had been shown to a jury or at the end of a trial.

But some material would remain subject to “consideration”.

A meeting was scheduled to take place on Thursday (12 Nov) between a number of organisations angry at the guidelines, which were issued without any consultation with journalists. Even the police are said to be concerned.

“Too many coulds and shoulds,” was the reaction of Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, to a long list of categories that would require a chief crown prosecutor’s consideration. “There’s too much room for manoeuvre where it’s all left to the CPS to use discretion. There are certain things where it should be an entitlement for the public to receive information.

“The Association of Chief Police Officers is equally concerned.”

John Battle, head of compliance at ITN, said: “This is one of those issues that unifies the print and broadcast media, both national and local. There was some great alarm about this new ban.

“The CPS clarification is a step in the right direction but does not quite give us what we want.

“We say there should be a presumption that footage used in court should be disclosable; that there should be a duty to disclose unless there is very good reason not to.”

Satchwell said: “We need to sit down with the CPS to discuss these guidelines so that we come up with better ones.

“There should be a general presumption that material used in open court, seen by the jury, should be released to the media unless there are exceptional circumstances. If the jury have seen it, the public are entitled to see it.”

Senior judges have recently backed open justice, he said, because contemporaneous reporting promotes public confidence in the police and the judicial process.

WHAT MIGHT STAY UNDER WRAPS

Material requiring CPS consideration before release would include: n CCTV footage of a defendant, especially that showing a witness or defendant shortly before or during a crime.

Video and audio tapes of police interviews with defendants, victims and witnesses.
Victim statements.
Psychiatric or medical statements.

Material which can be released includes: n Maps, diagrams and photographs, including custody “mug shots”.

Videos of a crime scene after the event.
Videos of seized property, such as weapons and drugs.
Sections of interview transcripts read out in court.
Videos and photographs showing reconstructions of the crime.

By Jean Morgan

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