CPS Response to Area Inspection Programme, CPS North West Baseline Report
His Majesty's Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) have today issued a report following their inspection of CPS North West.
The report recognises the hard work of all staff in the North West Area and the joint working with criminal justice agencies to sustain and improve performance and service to the communities of Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Cumbria. This is despite the challenging operating environment created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the significant increase in live caseloads this created.
The Area is grateful that the report recognises that we have and continue to maintain a good grip of our casework, especially in the face of unprecedented challenges caused by the pandemic over the past two and a half years.
Good grip, which assesses timeliness of decision making and disclosure, preparation for the first hearing in the magistrates’ and Crown Court, and the effectiveness of correspondence handling, was apparent in many aspects of the files that were examined, particularly in our Crown Court and RASSO casework.
The inspection identified strengths in our casework handling including adding value through its Code compliant decision making in magistrates’ court, Crown Court and Rape and Serious Sexual Offences (RASSO) casework.
In addition, the report found that the Area added significant value in magistrates’ court cases when seeking orders on sentence to protect victims, witnesses, and the public, as well as when consulting with victims and witnesses during the course of proceedings and at court. The Area’s performance is good in respect of several aspects of the service provided to victims and witnesses post-charge.
The Area welcomes the report and the recognition that we are committed to improving performance where needed and had already identified most of the aspects that require improvement and taken steps to address them. The Inspectors noted that as pressures ease and the recruitment position stabilises, the Area should be in a good position to build on the aspects highlighted for improvement within the report.
Martin Goldman, Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS North West said: “The role of His Majesty’s Inspectorate is to drive improvements and build public confidence in the prosecution process. I welcome their scrutiny and thank them for this fair and balanced report which rightly praises some aspects of our work and outlines where improvements need to be made.
"The report highlights our commitment to providing a quality service to victims and witnesses and local communities in the North West Area, based on sound decision making and high-quality casework.
"The report recognises that the Area deserves great credit for maintaining a good grip of its volume casework over the past two and a half years, in the face of unprecedented challenges caused by the pandemic. I was pleased to see recognition of our staff who worked tirelessly throughout this period to ensure that high standards were maintained.
"The Area had already identified that the quality and timeliness of legal decision making, and improved case strategy were areas for improvement, and we have undertaken work to enhance our performance, including training for legal staff and managers and improved quality assurance checks.
"The report provides a good baseline for improvement in a number of areas including case strategy, analysis and the overall quality and timeliness of legal decisions. I acknowledge there are improvements to be made and we are firmly committed to addressing those over the next twelve months.
"It is re-assuring that our local findings accord with those of HMCPSI”.
There are no specific recommendations in the report, however we have identified three main issues to address.
Issues to address
1. Improve the overall quality of legal thought and decision making, including case analysis and strategy
This encompasses a number of issues in the report that will be addressed through the development of structured and considered casework analysis and strategy from the outset. This will include consideration to potential changes throughout the life of the case, appropriate use of special measures, clear instructions to Advocates and full consideration of disclosure. The report recognised that there is a keen desire by the Area to drive improvement in its processes, outcomes, and the quality of its legal work. The Area has already introduced a process whereby ‘mini-inspections’ are carried out by senior Legal Managers of magistrates’ court, Crown Court and RASSO cases and actions agreed as a result of those findings. A ‘prompt’ document has also been introduced for use by prosecutors when reviewing cases, based on the analysis of what a good review should contain. The effectiveness of this will be reviewed and further actions identified including structured legal training.
This will be reinforced by further developing Legal Managers to quality assure legal decision making and case analysis as part of the Individual Quality Assurance process and wider Team Quality Assurance as part of the Casework Quality Board, chaired by the Chief Crown Prosecutor.
2. Improve the timeliness of charging decisions and disclosure
We recognise the need to improve timeliness of charging and disclosure decisions and have introduced daily reporting and improved governance to monitor the effectiveness of our improvement plan. We have already put measures in place to address this, including cradle to grave case ownership on volume casework and have seen some positive results on some of our units. Our priority is to ensure that improvement is now consistent across all units. We recognise that timely decision making is key in providing the possible service to victims and witnesses, suspects and our CJS partners.
The Area has dedicated legal managers who oversee pre-charge work in each unit and pre-charge timeliness is a standing agenda item at the monthly Area Strategic Board, chaired by the Chief Crown Prosecutor.
3. Across all casework the quality and timeliness of VCL letters needs to be improved
The CPS recognises the importance of getting our communications with victims right.
In the North West Area, we have appointed both Legal and Operational delivery leads to work alongside our established victim panel to drive improvements across all of our victim focused initiatives. This will achieve improved governance and ensure we properly assess outcomes and take appropriate action across all roles to deliver a better service to our victims and witnesses.
The CPS recognises the importance of getting our communications with victims right. The quality of our communications is a key priority and nationally we are conducting a three-phase programme of work in order to 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 conducted bespoke user needs research to better understand the needs and preferences of victims in their communications with the CPS and provide a solid evidence base for the next phase of our work. 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. This research has been completed and was published on the CPS website on 27 June 2022.
We have started phase three of our ambitious programme of work to transform our service to victims. This includes taking forward the recommendations of the research to improve the quality of communication we provide to all victims and enhance the service we provide to victims with the greatest needs. We have engaged with stakeholders on the back of the research and will continue to involve them as we design and pilot improved approaches.