Defence will have to disclose case:the queen's speech

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The Independent Online
STEPHEN WARD

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, is to go ahead with changes to the rules on disclosure of evidence to prevent what the police see as unfair defence "ambushes" of the prosecution in court.

They will make the defence disclose more of its case earlier and allow the prosecution to hold back more of its evidence until later. Solicitors and barristers fear the changes may lead to miscarriages of justice unless stringent safeguards are included. The details will not be revealed until later this week.

The proposals, which were instigated after police pressure on Mr Howard, are intended to make it harder for defendants to introduce plausible but false defences at the last minute.

They also protect from disclosure to defendants sensitive information such as the names of informants and details of intelligence operations. Senior police officers have complained that they have had to abandon cases in order to protect informants.

Under the new Criminal Procedure and Investigations Bill there will be three stages to the disclosure procedure: the prosecution would first release unused material which might undermine its case; in response, the defence would, for the first time, have to disclose information about its case to narrow the issues in dispute.

Finally, the prosecution would give any additional unused material which might assist the defence case.

Under the present law, the prosecution is obliged to disclose almost all its unused material to the defence.

The Bill will also introduce a Code of Practice for the police which will cover what materials they would be obliged to preserve and to make available to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Another section of the Bill will provide judges with powers to order a preparatory hearing in a long and complex case if it was thought there would be significant benefits.

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