Disclosure and freedom of information
Disclosing unused material in criminal cases is an essential part of any police investigation. Unused material is material that the police service has gathered during the course of an investigation that is not used evidentially for the case when it gets to court. Even though it has not been used, the material is expected to be kept as it could become relevant at a later date. Lord Justice Gross has described this as still ‘one of the most important – as well as one of the most misunderstood and abused – of the procedures relating to criminal trials’ (2011).
The police investigation team is likely to appoint a disclosure officer, who will be able to advise commanders on relevant material and disclosure procedures. Decision logs and de-brief information could be subject to disclosure rules, and form part of the unused material.
In an investigation, police investigators, via nominated disclosure officers, compile a list of all unused material that will be disclosed to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the defence. Examples of material falling under the definition are:
- 999 voice tapes
- Incident logs and pocket books
- Operational briefing/de-briefing sheets
- Policy files/decision books
- Material in police possession from third parties and records held by other agencies
In deciding whether the material satisfies the disclosure test the investigator must pay particular attention to material that could potentially undermine the prosecution case or assist the defence. Material should be made available to the officer in charge and the disclosure officer so they can make an informed decision. De-brief material includes not only the de-brief report but also individual feedback and notes made by any party at the de-brief.