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Prosecutors set to release information to the press

A new protocol to guarantee the release of prosecution material to the press has been agreed between editors and the authorities.

The announcement was made at the Society of Editors’ conference in Windermere, and was subtitled “the public’s need to know”.

It means that the media will be allowed access to prosecution material from court that is normally withheld.

This has been agreed between the Crown Prosecution Service, the Association of Chief Police Officers and media representatives with the aim of setting out details of the material to be revealed.

Launching the initiative, Ken Macdonald QC, the director of public prosecutions, said: “We are determined to provide an open and accountable prosecution process by ensuring that, wherever possible, we give the media access to all relevant prosecution material.

“This document is the result of close cooperation between all the organisations involved. We have all worked together to reach agreement and I would particularly like to thank the media representatives who have participated so constructively.

“We will monitor closely the way the protocol operates and will review it next year to ensure that it is delivering its aim.”

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 (e.g. 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 Crown Prosecution Service 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.

    On behalf of media representatives, Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: “The protocol should help to ensure that justice is open, demystified and more accessible. Unless there is an extremely good reason for withholding information, it is important that the wider public should see material upon which juries base their verdicts and the courts make their decisions.

    “The DPP’s commitment to greater openness will help the media to inform the public about the working of the criminal justice system. It is an example that should be followed as greater knowledge and understanding will help to improve public perceptions.”

    Andy Hayman, chair of the ACPO media advisory group and assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said: “We welcome this protocol, which has been achieved through much constructive discussion.

    “The media plays an important role in helping the public understand the work of the police and the criminal justice system and a close working relationship is essential.

    “I hope that the agreements we have reached in this protocol will benefit the flow of information from the criminal justice system to the media and the public.”

    The document includes paragraphs which state: “A key objective is to achieve effective mutual cooperation. Criminal justice agencies and the media have different roles to fulfil. The primary function of the police is to protect public safety. The role of CPS is to prosecute appropriate cases firmly and fairly. The media’s task is to provide the public with information they have a right to, swiftly and comprehensively.

    “Our overriding objective is to provide an open and accountable prosecution process, by ensuring the media have access to all relevant material wherever possible, and at the earliest appropriate opportunity.