Speak out on access to trial material

Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald has urged journalists
who are still facing problems getting access to trial material – such
as pictures of convicted criminals – to speak out.

Their views
will then be fed into a review of the new joint protocol – agreed last
month by the Crown Prosecution Service, police and press – which says
police and prosecutors should have a “presumption in favour of
disclosure” when considering requests by the press for material.

Paul
Durrant, assistant editor of the Eastern Daily Press, told the
conference his paper was facing difficulties obtaining pictures of
convicted criminals despite the new protocol.

“A legal hurdle seems to be that there is a public interest test and we are already running into problems.”

Macdonald
pointed out that the protocol clearly stated that prosecution material
used in court that should normally be released to the media included
custody photographs of the defendants.

“We are doing what we can,
talking with our people. ACPO [The Association of Chief Police
Officers] should be doing the same with the police. You should take it
up with local police, then ACPO and feed it into the review.”

The
review is monitoring how the new protocol is working in its first six
months. Society of Editors executive director Bob Satchwell, who helped
to broker the protocol, told Press Gazette: “We need examples of both
good and bad practice for the review.”

Macdonald revealed that he
had been shocked by one media request for a tape of a rape victim
pleading with their attacker. The request was refused.

But he
welcomed the publication of performance data about the Crown
Prosecution Service across the country published in The Times. It
followed a request by freelance Heather Brooke, who specialises in
freedom of information.

“We provided her with everything she
asked for within 13 days. She received a mass of spreadsheets, data and
figures, providing The Times with many pages of reporting and comment,”

said Macdonald.

“So
I believe that the work we carried out this year on our joint protocol
on the release of prosecution material was not just window dressing. It
demonstrates a real change in the relationship between the Crown
Prosecution Service and the media.”

■ Macdonald said he was yet
to make up his mind about the televising of trials. He said he would
have no difficulty with the Court of Appeal being filmed, judges
passing sentence or legal arguments.

However, he was concerned that cameras in court would intimidate witnesses and also affect jurors.

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