CPS Response to Area Inspection Programme, CPS South West Baseline Report August 2022
Her Majesty's Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) have today issued a report following their inspection of CPS South West.
The Inspectors have set out fairly the context, caseload and resourcing pressures that the Area was dealing with in the lead up to the inspection. The report recognises the hard work and dedication of all staff in the Area and the joint working with criminal justice agencies to sustain and improve performance despite the challenging operating environment created by the Covid -19 pandemic.
The Area welcomes the report and the recognition that it has a sound understanding of the aspects of casework which need to be improved. 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.
The inspection identifies strengths in our casework handling. The report notes that the Area adds value through its Code compliant decision making in magistrates’ Court, Crown Court and Rape and Serious Sexual Offences (RASSO) casework. It also recognised that we add value in our good quality decision making around our continuing disclosure of unused material in Crown Court and RASSO casework. Further, that we add value at sentencing seeking the right orders to protect victims, witnesses and the public.
The inspection noted the significant increase in RASSO work over the last two years and how the Area has been at the forefront of initiatives to improve RASSO casework quality. The report identifies many positives in our RASSO casework handling and how it excels by ensuring that timely conferences take place thereby ensuring grip throughout and that early action is taken where necessary to strengthen cases.
The report found particular strengths in our casework quality in Crown Court and RASSO casework and in our service to victims and witnesses post charge.
We welcome the report as it provides a baseline for improvement in a number of areas. Specifically, improvement is required in the quality of case analysis and strategy in reviews and greater compliance with disclosure obligations.
Inspectorates’ Issues to address
The three key issues to address:
- The Area has a requirement to improve case strategy and analysis at both the pre charge and post charge stage.
- Improvement is needed in relation to our compliance with our disclosure obligations.
- Across all casework the quality and timeliness of VCL letters needs to be improved.
1. The Area has a requirement to improve case strategy and analysis at both the pre charge and post charge stage
The Area has developed an overarching casework quality strategy with specific plans for each casework unit. The strategy includes a focus on training and support for our lawyers.
This will be reinforced by developing our legal managers who will focus on effective quality checks at the pre and post charge stage through Individual Quality Assessments (IQA), dip sampling and case management panels.
The legal managers will continue to feedback casework issues to the Casework Quality Committee to ensure Area wide themes are captured and addressed through training and Area wide communications.
2. Improvement is needed in relation to our compliance with disclosure obligations
We have appointed disclosure champions across all teams to work in partnership with the Area Disclosure lead and the Police. Disclosure workshops will continue to take place on specific issues including the quality of police unused schedules and disclosure and non–disclosure of material which does not meet the test. This will be supported with IQA and dip sampling by the disclosure champions to assess compliance with disclosure obligations.
We will continue to work with the police to ensure that an effective escalation process is in place and that feedback is provided through the police champion network and Joint Operational Improvement Meetings (JOIM). We will also address performance by listening to feedback from defence colleagues via the local stakeholder disclosure engagement forum.
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. The quality of our communications is a key priority and 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 begun phase 3 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.
Chief Crown Prosecutor
CPS South West