New protocol puts evidence within the media's reach

Jon Slattery and Dominic Ponsford report from the Society of Editors’ annual conference in Windermere

The
Crown Prosecution Service has pledged to make evidence from criminal
trials, such as CCTV footage and photographs, available to the media
wherever possible.

It follows a new “protocol” agreed between the
CPS, media representatives and the Association of Chief Police Officers
which puts the emphasis on disclosing material rather than keeping it
from the press.

Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald launched the new initiative at the Society of Editors annual conference.

He
stressed: “I have instructed chief crown prosecutors around the country
that they should always presume in favour of disclosure unless there is
a very good reason why material should not be disclosed.”

The
protocol states that prosecution material which has been relied upon by
the Crown in court and which should normally be released to the media
includes:

● Maps, photographs (including custody photos of defendants), diagrams and other documents produced in court;

● Videos showing scenes of crime as recorded by police after the event;

● Videos of property seized (such as weapons, clothing as shown to jury in court, drug hauls or stolen goods);

● Sections of transcripts of interviews/ statements as read out (and therefore reportable, subject to any orders) in court;

● Videos or photographs showing reconstructions of the crime;


CCTV footage of the defendant, subject to any copyright
issues. Prosecution material which may be released after
consideration by the CPS in consultation with the police and relevant
victims, witnesses and family members includes:

● CCTV footage or
photographs showing the defendant and victim, or the victim alone, that
has been viewed by jury and public in court, subject to any copyright
issues;

● Video and audio tapes of police interviews with defendants, victims and witnesses;

● Victim and witness statements.

Macdonald
told the conference: “I think it’s time for us to get away from a
culture of secrecy. I hope we are entering a new era of openness with
the public and, through the protocol, a new relationship with the
media.”

Society of Editors executive director Bob Satchwell, who
was involved in the protocol talks, said: “Those involved found it was
a breath of fresh air that was most welcome and a sign of a cultural
change. It is an example I hope other people in positions of authority
will try to follow.”

Macdonald said the protocol would be reviewed after a year.

The
DPP also said he believed there had been “something of a fetish” in the
UK for jury protection. But he said “We are now living in an
information age where a juror can get into Google and find out all
about defendants.

“The solution is to trust juries to try the case on the evidence.”

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