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Chief praises his team in year end review

30/12/2011

Team at CPS Mersey-Cheshire praised

Paul Whittaker, Chief Crown Prosecutor of CPS Mersey-Cheshire, has praised his team for their performance this year -despite the service facing a period of unprecedented change.

In his end of year review, Mr Whittaker highlights improvements and successes across the board, during a time which has seen cuts to the workforce, large-scale industrial action and reduced budgets.

"Since April this year, CPS Mersey-Cheshire has achieved successful prosecutions in 84% of cases. Our Crown Court team is currently number one in England and Wales for the number of guilty pleas being secured. In fact, defendants are pleading guilty at first hearing in more than half of our Crown Court cases," said Mr Whittaker.

"This success is mainly due to our innovative Early Guilty Plea scheme which assigns specialist staff to identify and progress those cases where we are confident of securing an early guilty plea. This then allows us to concentrate our resources on the preparation of those cases that are proceeding to trial.  An early guilty plea also provides certainty for victims and witness who are spared the ordeal of attending court and benefits the police, Witness Service and Witness Care Unit."

The Area's approach, which targets resources where they're needed most, has seen the number of unsuccessful prosecutions fall and has achieved results when cases do go to trial.

Mr Whittaker picks out just a few examples of many where the hard work and professionalism of his team has secured justice in the courtroom.

"Only last month we saw 13 members of the notorious Whitney family drugs gang get prison sentences totalling more than 80 years. This was the last series of prosecutions in a three year operation which has removed a huge amount of criminality from the streets of Liverpool.

"This summer, our team worked closely with police and justice agencies to bring swift, effective justice during the public order disturbances. This included the convictions for Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe-Keenan who were jailed for four years each for inciting riots via Facebook.

"The legal expertise of our prosecutors is invaluable in every case and none more so that when we secured convictions for mother and daughter, Olive and Jasmine Maddock, who were charged with the rather unconventional offences of preventing a lawful burial and leaving a corpse unburied respectively, after they had failed to bury a relative who had lain dead for months.

"We can never rest on our laurels and are preparing for some extremely high profile trials next year."

Mr Whittaker turns his attention to the foundation of the service - the Magistrates' Unit. This team deals with the vast majority of cases - more than 40,000 a year - and every case starts life in this unit.

"Whilst the Crown Court cases tend to be the most complex and high profile, those in the Magistrates' Court are just as significant as they involve the crimes which impact the most on our communities and neighbourhoods," he said.

"Our Magistrates' team is securing guilty pleas in more than 74% of its cases and this is increasingly being achieved at first hearing," said Mr Whittaker.

The Magistrates' Team has also faced internal challenges as the service moves to become completely digital.

"Our Magistrates' team is working completely electronically on all CPS-owned processes. The only time they have to use paper is when cases move from our on-line systems to those of other justice agencies - such as the defence. This recourse to paper will be reducing and by April next year we will be a digital service," he added. "We are starting now to use tablet devices to present cases in court."

Mr Whittaker is confident that because of his team's focus on innovation, the extra squeeze on resources over the next few years will not impact on the service or on justice being achieved locally.

"Given the reductions in our budgets and in personnel, we will need to work smarter to maintain our performance levels. One of our aims is to use of out of court disposals such as conditional cautions and we are working with the police to deliver this. This will divert cases from court where the use of suitable conditions can achieve an appropriate outcome for minor offences and first time offenders. In particular we are working with local projects to divert women offenders from court and offer them instead place on dedicated referral schemes."

CPS Mersey-Cheshire is continuing with a two-year, radical restructure programme. CPS Merseyside has moved from having three offices to just one, with all staff based in the Royal Liver Building in Liverpool. While CPS Cheshire had three separate offices, in Warrington, Crewe and Chester. This was reduced to two offices, one in Warrington handling all Magistrates' Court work and one in Chester for the Crown Court work.
 
On April 1 this year the two county teams merged to become one CPS Area operating across Merseyside and Cheshire and is achieving savings through having identical structures and business processes.

Said Mr Whittaker: "Put simply, CPS Mersey-Cheshire now has one, Area-wide Magistrates Court Team; one, Area-wide Crown Court Team and - as already existed - one Areawide specialist Complex Casework Unit.  This, together with digital working, is an opportunity to further improve ways of working by taking advantage of technology and the benefits that the new Area structure offers.  We aim to think and work as one team, using our skills and resources, wherever possible, across geographical boundaries to ensure we maximise our effectiveness and efficiency to deliver the best possible public prosecution service for the communities of Cheshire and Merseyside."

Ends

For more information contact Sharon King, Area communications manager, on 0151 239 6465.