CPS Response to Area Inspection Programme, CPS London South Baseline Report, 17 February 2022
Her Majesty's Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) have today issued a report following their Inspection of CPS London South.
The report reflects the context of a significant increase in London South’s caseload following court closures in the initial lockdown in March 2020 and an increase in receipts from the police, which have created backlogs in the Area. These added pressures, coupled with major changes in the Area’s workforce and challenges with recruitment, have meant that experienced prosecutors and managers have had to balance managing increased caseloads with supporting new prosecutors and managers.
Whilst there were notable aspects of the Area’s casework that were done well, the inspectorate found that there were aspects of casework quality where improvement is needed. Most notably, the quality of case analysis and strategy in reviews was found to require significant improvement and there needs to be better compliance with disclosure obligations.
The consideration of victim and witness issues post charge was a strength, but the inspectorate identified that pre charge victim issues required improvement across all units.
Inspectorate's issues to address
There are a number of issues identified which need to be addressed. These have been brigaded under 3 broad headings below.
VALUE ADDED AND GRIP
1. The Area needs to add value to casework across all units in particular case analysis and strategy in reviews (1.17) (1.19)
The Area has already recognised that value needs to be added to the casework across all units, and work has commenced on a training programme focusing on bringing case strategy and analysis to life for prosecutors which will be delivered throughout 2022. Further improvements will be achieved through an increase in casework quality monitoring and the Area has already implemented the revised IQA process in October 2021.
2. The Area needs to ensure there is effective preparation for the first hearing and pre-trial preparation hearings, including compliance with its disclosure obligations (1.21) (1.19) (1.42)
The Area agrees with this finding and has already commenced work to address these issues by introducing enhanced training, encouraged early casework discussions to identify disclosure issues and close monitoring to track our performance. We have also established a pan-London Disclosure Forum to oversee and drive continuous improvements in the Area’s disclosure obligations.
In the Financial year 2022/23, our new recruitment supply strategy will deliver a timetable of structured national recruitment campaigns for core roles throughout the year. These will be supported by our commercial partners and will mean that our attraction across the market will be optimised to better address key roles, including RASSO vacancies.
VICTIMS AND WITNESSES
3. Whilst the report acknowledges there were strengths for the Area in respect of the service provided to victims and witnesses post-charge, the pre-charge consideration of victim and witness issues across all units must be improved. This includes victim communication letters in respect of both timeliness and quality.
The importance of considering the needs of victims and witnesses at the earliest stage remains a continuous focus and emphasis for the Area and work has already commenced on further training, the sharing of best practise and enhanced monitoring.
Senior legal leads on each unit have been working with the Area Victim Liaison Unit to improve the quality and timeliness of communications. A monthly staff forum was set up last year to scrutinise letters and provide feedback and learning. This mirrors the Areas VAWG LSIP where external independent scrutiny is additionally provided by third sector representatives.
CPS London South is also a Rape and Serious Sexual Offence (RASSO) pathfinder Area and is leading on a number of initiatives aimed at improving early victim engagement and support.
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.