Steering Committee on Justice Efficiencies and Access to the Justice System – Report on Disclosure in Criminal Cases
Disclosure problems continue to plague the criminal justice system. Twenty years after the landmark decision in StinchcombeFootnote 1 constitutionally entrenched the obligation on the prosecution to make full disclosure to the accused, disclosure breakdowns still occur too frequently. They give rise to the possibility of miscarriages of justice, cause case delay and contribute to backlogged and congested court systems in many parts of the country.
This report focuses on the causes of disclosure problems as identified by the major professional participants in the justice system – the police, prosecutors, defence counsel and judges. It then recommends collaborative action to address the problems. The report does not conclude, as some argue, that the biggest cause of disclosure problems is the law of disclosure itself. We believe the system is still encountering disclosure problems primarily because all the professional participants in the criminal justice system, in one way or other, have not effectively responded to the information management challenges posed by constitutionally mandated disclosure.
The Final Report of the Air India Inquiry and the LeSage/Code Report comprehensively examined disclosure issues in the context of lengthy and complex cases. This report focuses on disclosure issues in "day to day" cases. It suggests that through better organization, greater cooperation, improved information technology and management, disclosure can be made earlier and the percentage of cases collapsing on the day set for trial because of disclosure problems can be significantly reduced. The report also asks whether all the disclosure currently provided is necessary, since 90% of cases are resolved without a trial.
Important issues addressed by the report include the lack of a procedural mechanism to facilitate the early resolution of disclosure disputes, the challenges posed to the system by unrepresented accused and whether codification of the prosecution’s disclosure obligation would improve understanding of the scope of the obligation and increase the likelihood of judicial consistency.
The disclosure subcommittee received valuable information, advice and comments from numerous sources. The Steering Committee would like to thank the many people who assisted the subcommittee. The willingness of those involved in the criminal justice system to seriously consider the need for change is very encouraging.
The opinions expressed in this report are those of the members of the Steering Committee and not of the courts, ministries or organizations to which they belong. Not all members of the Steering Committee agree with all parts of the report. The overall direction of the report is, however, strongly supported by all members of the Steering Committee.
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