Release of Prosecution Material to the Media

The protocol for the media to have prosecution material

This protocol is another topic that boils down to the public interest in court cases. As a result of the publics right to reports in the press that fully explain such cases, both the prosecuting agency and the investigating police force often provide assistance to journalists. This might be for reports covering cases which are in progress or for background material. In order for the case to be fully aired, journalists may need access to the prosecution material and this includes evidence such as film footage or photographs.

A national protocol on this subject was issued in 2005 by the Crown Prosecution Service, after talks in which representatives from both the media and the police could both state their case in the matter.

The result was the drawing up of the following list of prosecution materials (including trials at magistrates courts) that should usually be released for media use:

  • Photographs (including custody photos of defendants)

  • Maps and other diagrams produced in court

  • Video footage of the scene of the crime as recorded by police after the event

  • Video footage of any seized property such as weapons, drugs hauls, stolen goods or clothing as shown to the jury in court

  • Any interview transcripts or statements that were read aloud to the court

  • Photographs or video footage of reconstructions of the crime

  • CCTV footage of the defendant (but this is subject to other copyright laws).

A further list was drawn up as part of the 2005 protocol. This included prosecution material that could be released for media use but only after consideration by the Crown Prosecution Service. Such decisions would be made after consulting the police, witnesses, victims and family members linked to the particular case.  The 2005 list included:  

  • CCTV footage of the defendant and the victim that were viewed by the jury and public in court (subject to copyright laws)

  • CCTV footage of the victim alone that was viewed by the jury and public in court (subject to copyright laws)

  • Video or audio footage of interviews conducted by the police, with defendants, victims and witnesses

  • Statements by victims and witnesses.

Only evidence that reflects the prosecution case and informs the decision of the court must be released. This is why the material released to the media must have been read out or shown in open court or else placed before the sentencing judge.

The final element of the 2005 protocol relevant for journalists enables any media organisations to ask the head of strategic communications at the Crown Prosecution Service to become involved in the event of any such dispute over the disclosure of prosecution materials. Representations from both the media agency and the criminal justice agency will take place and consideration will be given to the stated aim of the 2005 protocol: namely ‘achieve greater openness in reporting criminal proceedings.’