Role of the CPS in dealing with requests, and liaison with the police
The statutory role of the Crown Prosecution Service is to advise the police in certain circumstances, and to conduct criminal prosecutions. The police provide evidence and information to enable the CPS to carry out these statutory functions.
In principle the material we receive to enable us to carry out our statutory functions should be treated by the CPS as having been supplied to us only for those purposes, whether it has been provided by the police or by another source, for example, the accused. For this reason, as well as the need to protect the legitimate interests of individuals, it is necessary to take care when considering requests for disclosure of prosecution material to a third party.
Requests for the disclosure of material might be made to the police or the CPS. The ownership of witness statements has not been judicially resolved. Statements are made to the police, but copies are supplied to the CPS and then forwarded to either magistrates’ court or the Crown Court. At any given time the statement can be in the possession of one of a number of agencies in the criminal justice system and many requests could legitimately be made to the police, the CPS or even the court.
There is no reason why the CPS should not deal with requests made to it, notwithstanding considerations as to ownership or possession, as in most cases the party will be seeking a copy. It is common practice within the CPS to deal with these requests.
But it follows from the principle set out above that the CPS may legitimately regard the police, at least in some instances, as the more appropriate authority to take decisions about onward disclosure. They are the originators of the material and the primary law enforcement authority. The CPS can and should of course advise the police of relevant considerations and safeguards. Examples of requests that ought to be made or directed to the police are indicated in this section.
Where the CPS deals with the request or is asked to advise, it is important to liaise with the police. Disclosure should not take place before the police have been consulted. The same considerations apply where a decision not to prosecute or to discontinue proceedings has been made.
The CPS should always advise and/or deal with requests made while criminal proceedings are being pursued. This is to avoid prejudicing any trial and/or continuing investigation. Where the CPS is merely advising on proceedings, or proceedings have concluded, requests can often be directed to the police. Other examples of requests that the CPS would expect to deal with and/or advise on include requests from private prosecutors, other prosecuting authorities, cases in which the CPS is or may be a party to any prospective proceedings, cases of complexity, for example, those involving linked proceedings in the civil and criminal courts such as may occur in child abuse cases.