When I was asked to contribute an article about simplifying evidence disclosure in casefiles, specifically Directors’ Guidance-6 concerning redaction, I had to first appraise myself with “what is DG6” – the disconcertingly vague title given to an administrative process that now is the new normal for investigators.
Let me start with a disclaimer. I believe transparency and integrity are of course right in order to present a balanced case, keeping in mind our Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 obligations and core values, and should be imbedded in our work standard. I would like to also add that I come to work, to work as do others, and not just work but work hard. And I do work very hard and yet I do not seem to have the headspace to investigate unhindered. Simple pre-charge of cases is made convoluted by adding the burden of laborious administrative tasks that are often sold as a ‘quick workaround’.
This brings me to the redaction of evidence – (pre-charge) DG6 to be exact. In principle, it’s great the case will be transparent and all the material having a bearing on the evidential points is shared with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) at the earliest. But there’s a catch, I must redact the material before submitting it to the CPS.
Redaction of case material takes time and can be easily rectified by ensuring that personal information within the ambit of law is shared. As I understand, a clause built into the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) allows this, but correct agreements are absent and probably involved parties are not empowered enough to do it.
To me, this appears to be an issue of trust which needs to be won back and built upon to enable fair and transparent policing.
Pre-charge redaction under DG6 is just one symptom of a larger issue, I would argue that the process of redaction gives diminishing returns – the longer I take to redact a document (which can also be done by a member of the police staff), the longer I take to devote attention to other crime victims. I understand the need for this process, but to land it on the already over-stretched police force makes the process seem punitive.
In my experience redaction ability falls into three distinct groups and creates a failure in each case:
1) Tech savvy but young in service: This is a growing cohort and one that can effectively redact case material, but generally lack knowledge of what to redact, what they are redacting or the reasons for doing it and are prone to redacting the wrong information.
2) Tech-savvy and experienced officers: This group is generally smaller than the first and the third group. It comprises competent detectives who can deliver the role and possess enough knowledge about both case file redaction and the technological process. Unfortunately, much of this group’s time, to which I think I belong, is spent assisting members of groups one and three ultimately taking them away from the victims they would like to support.
3) Veterans but not-so-tech savvy: They are masters of the game. Officers in this group are skilled at completing the casefile work quickly and have sound knowledge of what information to redact but lack the technological know-how. Of course, training can help address it, but should officers be devoting time to such tasks?
A uniform pre-charge process built on pragmatism and proportionality needs to be embedded into the DG6 to ensure the redaction process is the same irrespective of your force. This will also determine that we learn from the mistakes made in the past and help us move on from the culture of implementing processes without due consideration. If a legislative change is made, and pre-charge redaction of documents is eliminated, it would massively help overcome issues I have anecdotally alluded to above.
Mine is not a case in isolation. Far too many officers regularly experience it across the 43 police forces in England and Wales and this needs to be addressed urgently.
Neurodiversity should also be considered when making decisions and enforcing organisational requirements such as DG6. Improvements to DG6 should be allowed to ensure investigators’ needs are considered so that they can work under an agreed shared vision.
‘Administration IS NOT investigation’. If such a phrase has not been coined, I would like to do so. Administrative tasks should be kept to a minimum, and this includes redaction of case material including at the pre-charge stage.
For me, an ideal solution would be to create a post-charge redaction protocol where the police service is not the agency undertaking redaction at all. Full code test redaction is also problematic as it is often voluminous, especially with cases of Rape and Sexual Offences cases, taking away the officer’s attention from other work responsibilities such as supporting victims, monitoring suspects, aiding witnesses, helping colleagues, and responding to incidents.
Full code test redaction creates a greater burden on officers as sometimes it is unclear what case material would actually be seen by relevant others. It also promotes a culture of ‘redact-just-in-case’ which generates additional workload and takes investigators away from the victims they want to support and other essential casework.
As an experienced detective, I find it more sensible for the CPS to redact material which has come to light at a later stage as they know the reasons for what needs to be redacted and why.
Post-charge redaction should also fall within the ambit of the CPS as both the prosecution and defence are better at agreeing from a list of material which information is relevant.
Clear training delivered in a variety of ways is urgently required to help officers keep abreast with redaction changes.
In my experience, the burden of redaction in full code cases is not just a matter of efficiency but an issue of competing demands. If I am more efficient in the way I investigate, I can get involved in other investigative task slots in place. However, sometimes it is a struggle to devote the required attention to my investigations, which, as I have alluded to above, is a part of the bigger issue impacted by the redaction obligations under DG6.
I have faced real-life situations where case file completion has been delayed due to redaction obligations as I had to prioritise attending live incidents.
In conclusion, change needs to take place urgently. There is a real need to reduce the bureaucracy of case file building under DG6, and the pre-charge stage is a good place to start.
Trust is the key to creating a synergy between the police and the CPS in the larger interest of victims of crime and in making society a better place. It is just one step in the right direction to make the system more efficient and understand shared accountability without having a spaghetti junction of overlapping roles and responsibilities. An amendment to the data protection legislation is fundamental in making this change so that investigators are free to investigate and can get back to doing what they should be doing best – concentrating on delivering for victims of crime and not being embroiled in administrative servitude.