Westminster Legal Policy Forum

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Evidence gathering and prosecution rates in the criminal justice system - priorities for the Royal Commission, forensic science, witness statements and the processing of digital evidence

Morning, Monday, 28th September 2020

Online Conference


***Full-scale policy conference taking place online***

This conference will examine the treatment and effective use of evidence in the criminal justice system.

Areas for discussion include:

  • improving delivery of forensic science services, and proposals for new structures and regulatory powers,
  • strengthening victim protection and reform to the delivery of evidence,
  • digital evidence, and dealing with the pressures of increasing volumes issues for privacy, and
  • priorities for the Royal Commission on the criminal justice system.

The agenda:

  • New evidence: prosecuting crime in 2020 - with Max Hill QC, Director of Public Prosecutions, Crown Prosecution Service
  • The role of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and how the Scottish model works in practice - with Alison Di Rollo QC, The Solicitor General for Scotland
  • The changing use of evidence in criminal cases - cross-examination, written statements, and improving crime-solving rates
  • The use of technology in evidence gathering and disclosure - with Chief Constable Nick Ephgrave, Lead for Criminal Justice, National Police Chiefs’ Council and AC, Metropolitan Police Service
  • Improving the quality of forensic science in the criminal justice system - with Dr Gillian Tully, Forensic Science Regulator
  • The increasing use of digital evidence - disclosure, innovation, and the secure processing of personal information

Why this is particularly relevant now - the context:

  • A Royal Commission on the criminal justice system - announced by the Government in December:
    • with the aim of improving system efficiency and effectiveness
    • likely to examine prosecution models in other jurisdictions - such as Scotland where prosecutors have powers to direct police investigations into serious crimes
  • Backlog of criminal cases - made more extensive due to the pandemic, with the recent CPS Inspectorate report warning that it could take a decade to clear all untried cases
  • The volume of evidence - increasing particularly from digital sources such as personal phone records, and resulting in pressures and reportedly to delays to investigations
  • Success rates for prosecutions - at a record low in England and Wales according to recent statistics, with particular concerns over the limited number of rape allegations being prosecuted
  • The COVID-19 crisis - with CPS guidance advising prosecutors to opt for alternatives to criminal charges for minor offences, and evidence from the Lord Chancellor to the Justice Committee on  preparations for reducing the number of jurors and removing jury trials for medium level offences in order to alleviate pressures on courts
  • Inclusion for disabled people in the criminal justice system - with recommendations for government from the EHRC on making appropriate adjustments for disabilities that ensure fair trials
  • Protection of vulnerable witnesses - and the MOJ Assessing risk of harm to children and parents in private law children cases consultation
  • Legal aid - including issues raised in the Lords Committee report on the impact of cuts and defendants being denied access to forensic testing and legal advice
  • Forensic science skills - and the recent launch of the Forensic Capability Network, to address skills shortages and drive innovation in forensic science

The discussion in detail:

Royal Commission on the criminal justice system - examining priorities

Conviction rates - with discussion expected on:

  • funding - for police forces and the CPS and the impact of court closures on cases being solved
  • the charging system - and possible changes
  • excessively personal questions - and options for addressing concerns
  • the handling of rape cases in the criminal justice system - next steps for the cross-government review, including around reduced convictions for suspects charged with rape, with recommendations expected to be published later this year

Vulnerable witnesses - and areas for improving protection, including:

  • support - access to guidance when giving evidence and greater emotional support throughout the prosecution process
  • changes to CPS guidance - on special measures to protect vulnerable witnesses, including giving evidence in private or recording an interview
  • protecting children - with MoJ consulting on private law children cases, issues in implementing improvements to the identification of risk, and the elimination of cross-examination by users
  • legal aid - and concerns over cuts and the implications for successful prosecutions and access to justice, with discussion on:
    • defendant access to forensic testing and legal advice
    • increasing number of litigants in person and an absence of early legal advice
  • witness statements - and recommendations from the Commercial Court Witness Evidence Working Group that they be scrapped, with a move to pre-trial depositions in the court
  • cross-examinations in court - with measures in the Domestic Abuse Bill aimed at protecting witnesses in family courts

Forensic science services - examining parliamentary recommendations and government commitments on the Forensic Science Regulator and a Forensic Science Board, including:

  • a Forensic Science Board - to determine a new strategy focusing on coordination and collaboration for stakeholders
  • the Forensic Science Regulator - increasing the statutory remit, including enforcement and investigative powers
  • a National Institute for Forensic Science - to oversee research and funding across the industry

Skills - priorities for the recently launched Forensic Capability Network, established with the objective of addressing skills shortages and driving innovation in forensic science

Digital evidence - with discussion expected on disclosure, processing and use, including:

  • the recommendations in the Information Commissioner’s Office investigation report, calling for clearer rules surrounding data protection for mobile phone extraction in criminal investigations following reports of inconsistent approaches and poor practice
  • new developments in the use of innovative technology for prosecutions
  • roll-out of digital consent forms and calls for the creation of a strategy to deal with the rapid growth of digital evidence
  • the role that technology will play in increasing the amount of digital evidence and personal information that can be gathered
  • ensuring that proper training is afforded to practitioners and best practice is used in relation to the increasing use of digital materials and AI
  • the impact on evidential standards, the workload of prosecutors, delays, privacy intrusion, personal freedoms and the number of requests for personal information in cases

Policy officials attending:

Our forums are known for attracting strong interest from policymakers and stakeholders.

This one looks no different. Places have been reserved by parliamentary pass-holders from the House of Commons Library, and officials from the Attorney General's Office; the Ministry of Justice; the Home Office; the Crown Prosecution Service; HMPPS; the National Audit Office; the National Crime Agency; the Serious Fraud Office and HM Revenue & Customs.

This is a full-scale conference taking place online***

  • full, four-hour programme including comfort breaks - you’ll also get a full recording to refer back to
  • information-rich discussion involving key policymakers and stakeholders
  • conference materials provided in advance, including speaker biographies
  • speakers presenting via webcam, accompanied by slides if they wish, using the Cisco WebEx professional online conference platform (easy for delegates - we’ll provide full details)
  • opportunities for live delegate questions and comments with all speakers
  • a recording of the addresses, all slides cleared by speakers, and further materials, is made available to all delegates afterwards as a permanent record of the proceedings
  • delegates are able to add their own written comments and articles following the conference, to be distributed to all attendees and more widely
  • networking too - there will be opportunities for delegates to e-meet and interact - we’ll tell you how!

Full information and guidance on how to take part will be sent to delegates before the conference

Keynote Speaker

Max Hill QC

Director of Public Prosecutions, Crown Prosecution Service

Keynote Speakers

Dr Gillian Tully

Forensic Science Regulator

Chief Constable Nick Ephgrave

Lead for Criminal Justice, National Police Chief's Council and Assistant Commissioner, Metropolitan Police Service

Max Hill QC

Director of Public Prosecutions, Crown Prosecution Service

Alison Di Rollo QC

The Solicitor General for Scotland


James Daly MP

Ruth Cadbury MP


Jodie Blackstock

Legal Director, JUSTICE

Professor Peter Sommer

Professor of Digital Forensics, Birmingham City University

Dr Jo Easton

Deputy Chief Executive and Director, Policy and Research, Magistrates Association

Dr. Marilena Kyriakidou

Senior Lecturer in Forensic Psychology, Sheffield Hallam University

James Clery

Senior Forensic Scientist, Clery Forensic Research and Consulting

James Mulholland QC

Vice Chair, Criminal Bar Association, and Barrister, 23 Essex Street Chambers

Jimmy Cockerton

UK Police Lead, Microsoft