CPS Response to Area Inspection Programme, CPS East of England, Baseline Report, 24 March 2022
Her Majesty's Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) have today issued a report following their inspection of CPS East of England.
We welcome the HMCPSI report of the Area. The inspectors have set out fairly the context and caseload and resourcing pressures with which the Area is dealing. The acknowledgement of the hard work of all in the Area and the joint working with criminal justice agencies is welcomed, as is the recognition the Area has a good awareness of the aspects of casework which need to be improved and the wider strategy issues to be faced. The Inspectors noted that as the unique pressures of the pandemic ease and recruitment increases to the necessary levels, the Area will be in a good position to build on the aspects which currently meet the casework quality standards and to improve the quality of casework across all aspects.
The inspectors found that the Area generally makes the right charging decisions in good time and selects the correct charges, properly reflecting the criminality and providing the court with adequate sentencing powers. The Area adds value by some good quality decision-making around disclosure of unused material, particularly in the Crown Court and rape and serious sexual offences (RASSO) casework. Added value was also demonstrated at sentencing with the prosecution in most instances and in all casework types, seeking the right orders to protect victims, witnesses, and the public.
The overall handing of disclosure in Crown and RASSO cases was assessed as fully meeting the standard.
There were aspects of strength for the Area in respect of the service provided to victims and witnesses post-charge. These included the timely and appropriate warning of witnesses across all casework examined.
Inspectorates’ Issues to address
There are 9 issues to address:
1. There is a requirement to improve the quality of reviews at both the pre-charge and post-charge stages. Area reviews often lacked a clear analysis and strategy in setting out how the prosecution would seek to put its case.
CPS Response: There is a comprehensive plan in place to focus on the quality of pre-charge advices in each part of the Area. The plans are tailored to the requirements of each team and recognise the varying experience levels in different parts of the Area. We are focusing on the content of pre-charge advices and the requirement for advices to focus on the analysis of each element of the case and how the case will be taken forward, rather than a recitation of facts. The requirement to be clear on allocation advice and acceptability of pleas is stressed. Advice quality is being monitored by managers and addressed through coaching and mentoring. In the Magistrates’ Court team where experience is less, training has been delivered on local case management panels to staff in the Magistrates Court teams and we are encouraging prosecutors in all teams to develop the probing techniques required, and to identify high risk cases. Linked to this we are formalising the approach to one-to-one meetings between DCPs and lawyers, focussing on coaching and mentoring which addresses case strategy and the tactical aspects of casework.
We are focusing on the quality of RASSO action plans to ensure they are realistic and proportionate and part of an effective overall approach with the police to resolve the issues in the case. We will provide training to lawyers to improve the content of pre-charge advice. We will also ensure that lawyers work with investigators so that any additional reasonable lines of enquiry which come to light in the course of completing an action plan, are addressed prior to re-submission. The Area RASSO Governance Board will oversee this work.
2. The pre-charge consideration of victim and witness issues is an aspect where there is scope for the Area to add more value to casework.
CPS Response: We are providing support and training to prosecutors to improve the consideration of victim and witness requirements pre-charge, including instructions that special measures should be considered in pre-charge reviews and actions to be set to progress. Further, consideration of relevant ancillary matters will be part of the Area’s focussed approach to improving the quality of pre-charge advice, including through IQA.
3. There is a need for improved and effective preparation for the first hearing, including addressing acceptability of pleas and instructions to the prosecuting advocate.
CPS Response: We have reinforced the guidance for providing instructions for prosecuting advocates, setting out the key aspects of a good quality advice. This includes instructions for court prosecutor for first hearing to be included in charging advice and in RASSO cases the lawyer to draft a paragraph for instructions in the brief. This will be monitored through focussed IQA and one to one discussions.
4. The Area needs to ensure it prepares its cases effectively for the plea and trial preparation hearing in the Crown Court to ensure progress is made.
CPS Response: Work is underway to improve the preparation of cases for PTPH hearings, including support to newer CC lawyers, using IQA, dip sampling of the defence engagement logs and assessing the quality of instructions provided to advocates as part of an ongoing review of advocate briefs.
5. There needs to be a better focus across all casework types of the use of appropriate applications, such as bad character applications, to help support and strengthen the prosecution case.
CPS Response: Additional instructions have been provided on completing bad character applications and applications will now be checked by prosecutors prior to dispatch. Dip sampling of bad character applications will be carried out to assess quality and timeliness.
6. Compliance with disclosure obligations in magistrates’ court cases is an aspect where the Area needs to improve.
CPS Response: Disclosure continues to be an important theme for us and is connected to the issues raised around case strategy and grip. We have appointed disclosure champions across the Magistrates’ Court team who take part in a quarterly audit jointly with police. This collaborative approach has made identification of issues easier. Disclosure workshops have started and will continue this year focussed on specific issues including reasonable lines of enquiry and rebuttable presumption material. The focused work on improving disclosure in the Magistrates’ Court teams will continue as new lawyers join. This will be supplemented by the use of the new IQA tool to assess compliance with disclosure obligations.
7. RASSO cases show strength in many aspects of disclosure work. As with Crown Court cases, initial disclosure is the main aspect where improvement is needed.
CPS Response: The Area will undertake a discrete piece of work to improve the quality of the provision of initial disclosure.
8. One aspect of case preparation that impacted negatively on the overall score for grip in the magistrates’ court was compliance with court directions. There is also room for improvement in both the sharing of hard media prior to the first hearing and in dealing promptly and effectively with court and defence correspondence.
CPS Response: Work has recently been undertaken to improve the provision of hard media and this will continue. The Area has also recently completed a re-structure of its Magistrates’ Court teams to support better casework quality and grip. This was followed by a successful initiative to ensure earlier trial readiness in Magistrates’ Court cases, which has significantly reduced the number of tasks, including those relating to court directions. This work and the focus on direction compliance will continue, supplemented by work with the court to ensure that court directions are appropriate and effective in progression cases.
9. Improvement is needed in respect of the timeliness and quality of victim communication letters.
CPS Response: The Area recognises that improvement is needed in the timeliness of the victim communications and has acted to improve performance. Our escalation policy has been relaunched and additional checks on finalised cases introduced.
Performance is improving on timeliness. We dip sample the quality of victim letters every six weeks via our VLU panel of prosecutors and operational delivery staff. We will continue to monitor these issues and provide feedback to individual lawyers.
The CPS recognises the importance of getting our communications with victims right. The quality of our communications is a key priority, and we are conducting a three-phase programme of work in order make improvements.
In the first phase we examined and completed actions which we could take in the shorter term to improve our communication. This included new template letters which help to set clear standards for our communication. The new templates became available to prosecutors in December 2021. We have also set up a new area leads network which provides a forum to identify and share local best practice and pilot new methods of victim communication.
In the second phase of the programme, we have conducted bespoke user needs research to better understand the needs and preferences of victims in their communications with the CPS. The research considered the methods of communication, the timing of communications and how we can best communicate the reasons for our prosecution decisions to victims. The purpose of this research is to provide a solid evidence base for an overhaul of our current victim communication and liaison scheme. This research has now been completed with high level findings to be shared in due course.
In phase 3 of our programme of work we will design and implement a new victim communication scheme. This work will be informed by the research produced during phase 2. This will ensure that the needs of victims will be at the heart of our new communication scheme. Later this year, we will engage with stakeholders on the back of the research and start Phase 3 to design improved approaches.
Chief Crown Prosecutor
CPS East of England