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Stephen Lawrence: Require prosecutors in the Local Court to disclose all material which might assist the defendant

I would amend the Criminal Procedure Act to require prosecutors in the Local Court to disclose all material which might assist the defendant. 

In NSW there are two standards of prosecutorial disclosure. 

In the higher courts there is a statutory requirement for full disclosure. This compels disclosure of all material held by investigating police and the DPP which might undermine the credibility of witnesses or otherwise assist the accused. 

Most criminal matters however are heard in the Local Court, where there is no such statutory direction. While there is an underlying common law obligation it is not widely understood and often operations ineffectively. 

It is common for police prosecutors to decline to provide criminal histories of witnesses (and important related documents such as statements of facts and COPS entries without which proper cross examination is often impossible) and to make highly questionable assessments of whether material 'might' assist the defendant. 

Bradley v Senior Constable Chilby [2020] NSWSC 145 is an example of police flagrantly failing to uphold their common law obligation of disclosure. 

Statutory reform is needed to avoid further miscarriages of justice and to ensure defendants in our summary justice system no longer receive second rate criminal justice. 

Stephen Lawrence is a Barrister at Black Chambers specialising in public law. He is the Deputy Mayor of the Dubbo Region and podcasts at 'The Wigs Podcast'. 

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