Mark Bedding, Customer Relationship Manager at Chorus Intelligence, discusses the technology that can improve the digital disclosure process…
Disclosure is out in the open. It’s part of the national conversation following the collapse of a series of rape trial cases at the end of 2017 and start of 2018, when text and social media exchanges emerged that undermined the complainants’ accounts.
As the CPS recognises, disclosure weaknesses have become the prosecutors Achilles heel. But, for the vast majority of forces the technology that could make a difference to the quality and speed of disclosure is already in the intelligence room, and being used by their analyst colleagues.
Digital cracks in disclosure practice
The principles behind disclosure have always been with us and were enshrined in the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 (CPIA) and its Code of Practice. We all want to maintain the integrity of our judicial system, proper and fair disclosure allows this. But full digital disclosure is not easy – it takes time to amass, process and schedule data in a balanced and targeted way.
The rise in the volume and type of digital data has added substantial pressure to the police and CPS to act in accordance with proper application of disclosure principles. Before, you might have filled one filing cabinet full of case data. Today a mobile phone download, printed out, would fill a whole room. Faced with this quantity of information, how do you separate the relevant from the non-relevant?
Within the Code of Practice, the bar for ‘relevancy’ of material is set very low. The relevancy test is referred in the Code of Practice as “material of any kind…which may be relevant and, … if it appears to have some bearing on the investigation”. If we consider county lines crime, and the multiple data accounts, handsets and strands of evidential data available, this impossible task will only get harder in line with the digital data available.
A change in disclosure responsibility
It’s generally believed that the disclosure officer has responsibility for the release of all relevant information relating to a case. However, former Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, added a forward to the CPS guidelines last May that stated that every individual that comes into contact with case data has a duty to disclosure.
Training on the implications of CPIA by law enforcement agencies up to now has been at best ad hoc and at worst completely non-existent. No one intentionally seeks to withhold information, but today’s ‘silo’ working practices makes this work even more demanding. An officer cannot simply expect to look in the right places for the material.
Utilising existing technology for disclosure
Many analysts and investigators already use intelligence software to cleanse data, provide new lines of enquiry and produce court-ready reports. These tools are also suited to disclosure if it has the ability to find any entity, keyword or phrase within a mass of historical or operational data sets.
The Police, CPS and Government are making great strides in ensuring disclosure failure is confronted. It will be interesting to see if the national disclosure improvement plan will deliver on its promise to spearhead a culture shift in the way that disclosure is viewed – taking it from an administrative task and placing it at the centre of all investigative activity.
But, this doesn’t mean the police can rest on its laurels in the meantime. We must see immediate improvement, both in terms of training and around agency-wide use of the technology already in situ to make disclosure simpler to achieve.
For more information on disclosure data management, see chorusintel.com