CPS response to Area inspection programme, CPS Thames and Chiltern baseline report, November 2022
His Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) has today (10 November 2022) issued a report following its inspection of CPS Thames and Chiltern.
The Inspectorate focused on the quality of our casework, finding that the Area - which covers Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire - makes charging decisions that reflect the gravity of offending, consults with victims well, handles correspondence from the courts, defence and police in a timely way, and has effective stakeholder relationships.
It highlighted some areas for improvement, particularly around the quality of case reviews carried out by prosecutors, how we take cases forward, including our management of unused material, and some aspects of support that we provide to victims.
HMCPSI recognised the impact that the pandemic has had on the Area’s work. Against a backdrop of increased caseloads and challenges in recruiting new staff, the Inspectorate commended the Area for reacting quickly to the pandemic and for its ongoing operational recovery work with partners.
CPS Thames and Chiltern Chief Crown Prosecutor Jaswant Narwal said: “We welcome HMCPSI’s report which recognises the hard work and commitment of our staff in delivering justice for victims and witnesses, especially in the face of increased caseloads during the pandemic.
“Our staff can be extremely proud of the good work that is highlighted in this report.
“The Inspectorate acknowledges our sound legal decision making and effective management of cases, as well as the value we add to issues relating to victims and witnesses, and our strong relationships with criminal justice partners.
“We accept there are improvements we can make to our service, and we are already focused on these.”
There are no specific recommendations within the report, but the Area has identified some aspects of its work where improvements are needed.
Issues to address
1. Clear casework analysis and strategy from the outset of the case
We acknowledge that we need to improve the quality of our case reviews at pre and post charge stage to ensure we have a clear case analysis and strategy that adequately demonstrates that we have properly considered the available evidence, understood the strengths and weaknesses of the case and addressed them where possible, and have developed a clear case theory as to how the case is to be prosecuted.
We will do this through a workshop package for staff to be delivered during 2023. We will support this work with regular monitoring.
2. Effective preparation for the plea and trial preparation hearings (PTPHs), including compliance with disclosure obligations
We agree that we need to improve some aspects of how we progress our cases. In terms of our preparation of cases for PTPHs, this will include completing plea and trial preparation forms, setting out what pleas would be acceptable to resolve a case early, preparing instructions for advocates, and engaging better with the defence.
We also need to improve compliance with our disclosure obligations, particularly in respect of initial disclosure.
In terms of PTPHs and general case progression, we will hold a workshop with staff that focuses on these issues, and ensure we monitor progress through local checks.
We will also hold a disclosure workshop for our staff which will cover all aspects of disclosure, particularly those that have been highlighted through the inspection as requiring improvement. We will ensure we have a system in place where regular checks are made on our compliance with disclosure.
3. Improved care for victims and witnesses
Whilst our management of victim and witness issues post charge is effective, we need to improve the quality and timeliness of our letters to victims when we drop or substantially alter a charge relating to a victim’s case. We also need to improve how we manage victim personal statements which set out the impact that an offence has had on a victim and help inform the court’s decision on sentencing.
We will continue to provide training to all our new staff in relation to victim letters and will ensure that our Victim Liaison Unit (VLU) is resourced effectively. We will also remind our staff that they need to record if they speak to a victim at court about changes to charges, so that we know we do not need to send a letter.
We will revisit our process for requesting victim personal statements, to ensure we liaise with the police to obtain them or get confirmation that they will not be provided, and to ensure we record when they are read out in court.
Our recently-established victim and witness board will drive these improvements and monitor progress.
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 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.