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CPS response to Cymru/Wales Area Inspection Programme Baseline Report, October 2021

|Publication

Her Majesty's Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) have today issued a baseline report following their Inspection of casework quality and the effectiveness of the same across the CPS Cymru-Wales Area. The findings form a baseline against which the Area will be assessed again in 24 months’ time in a follow-up inspection.

The Inspectorate focused their evaluation of casework quality on two key measures:

Added value and grip. The Inspectorate defined added value as the CPS making good, proactive prosecution decisions by applying its legal expertise to each case, and grip as the CPS proactively progressing its cases efficiently and effectively.

The report recognises the pressures that the coronavirus pandemic has brought, which coincided with a period of change in the Area workforce that saw the loss of experience and a number of new prosecutors appointed through recruitment and that this loss of experience at a time of such pressure has had an impact on casework quality.

The report also recognises that the Area has been under significant pressure with increasing caseloads at both pre and post charge stages following the first lockdown in March 2020, with the Crown Court caseload levelling off but remaining high due to reduced trial listing as a result of the need for necessary public health measures around social distancing.

We are pleased that the Inspectorate found that their overall file examination showed: -

  • There was a sound demonstration and application of the Code for Crown Prosecutors and an effective approach to the selection of the most appropriate charges. 100% of cases assessed were Code compliant in the Magistrates’ Court and Rape and Serious Sexual offences team and 91.7% were Code compliant in Crown Court cases. 
  • Well drafted timely indictments. 
  • There was good quality decision making in relation to disclosure, which was described as having been handled well, with the handling of 3rd party material described as a real strength. The report references the success of the Area’s drive to change and make improvement in this aspect of casework.
  • Good victim and witness care post charge through to trial.
  • That overall, the Area has effective systems and processes in place to grip its casework and ensure that cases are managed and progressed at key stages within the criminal justice process. 
  • There were effective stakeholder relationships, and these have improved with closer working on delivery during the pandemic.
  • That internally senior leaders have a clear grasp of the challenges to be addressed to improve casework quality.
  • The Inspectorate was assured that the Area has a culture that will allow it to focus, prioritise, and implement management activity to act on the inspection findings and deliver improvements, adding greater value in its casework.

Inspectorate's issues identified

Although there are no specific recommendations within the report we accept from the Inspectorate findings that there are six issues highlighted that need to be addressed as areas for improvement and we will work with staff and managers to address these issues which are:-

1. The quality of case reviews needs to be improved as many failed to address the key aspects required to allow cases to progress effectively and efficiently through the criminal justice system.

2. There needs to be a clear case analysis setting out a thoughtful case strategy as this is fundamental to the efficiency and effectiveness of the subsequent stages to support the initial application of the Code for Crown Prosecutors and selection of charges as the case moves through the criminal justice system.

3. The Area needs to assure itself that the case review training has been effective in improving the quality of analysis and strategy both in magistrates and Crown Court cases. 

CPS Response: In relation to the three issues identified above the Area has completed the roll-out of the case review standards training to all prosecutors. This has taken place since the Inspectorate’s visit. In support of the training we will update and re-issue our case review written guidance which emphasises the need to set out the strengths and in particular any weaknesses in the case and the need for a clear documented case strategy as well as the need for clear demonstratable continuous review at key stages. Case review and the need for a clear case strategy is also covered in the training for new entrants.

The Service will introduce a revised IQA process at the beginning of October 2021. We will also review and develop our local quality assurance framework to ensure that the appropriate actions are taken to deliver the necessary improvement in these areas of performance identified by the Inspectorate. This will include improvements in dip sampling and a bi-annual peer review. Progress will be monitored through the Area Casework Quality Committee, which is chaired by the Chief Crown Prosecutor, includes both Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutors, the Area Business Manager and all the Area’s Legal Managers.

4. Whilst the handling of victim and witness issues post charge was generally effective improvement of victim and witness care needs to improve at the pre charge stage, as does the quality of victim communication letters.

CPS Response: We will issue updated guidance and continue to emphasise the importance of considering the needs of victims and witnesses at the earliest stage i.e. pre charge and set out in the case strategy how any issues will be managed, including the need to make applications for special measures, and the need to consider the impact on the victim through effective use of the Victim Personal Statement. The Area has already undertaken work to improve systems in relation to Speaking to Witnesses at Court (STWAC), and this was recognised in the report. 

The Area has worked collaboratively with the Criminal Justice Agencies and other 3rd parties across Wales under the umbrella of the Criminal Justice in Wales Board to implement a Victims’ Code of Practice (VCOP) monitoring system which will assist with the quality assurance process and any action that needs to be taken forward. 

CPS Cymru-Wales is also a Rape and Serious Sexual Offence (RASSO) pathfinder Area and as such will be leading on a number of initiatives aimed at improving early victim engagement and support and which will address the issues identified as needing to be strengthened.

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 are looking at actions that we can take in the shorter term to improve our communication. This includes new template letters which will help to set clear standards for our communication. The new templates will be available to prosecutors by the end of this month. We have also set up a new area leads network which will provide a forum to identify and share local best practice and pilot new methods of victim communication.

In the second phase of the programme we are conducting bespoke user needs research to better understand the needs and preferences of victims in their communications with the CPS. The research will consider the method of communication, the timing of communication 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 is currently up and running and we expect the findings to be ready by the end of this calendar year. 

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. Phase 3 will be up and running by end of this year.

5. There needs to be a better focus on sharing hard media prior to the first hearing in all casework types.

CPS Response: A review of the current procedures in relation to the sharing of hard media will be undertaken and processes amended where relevant. This will form part of the Area action plan. 

6. The Area needs to improve compliance with court orders and the timeliness of correspondence handling in magistrates’ courts cases. 

CPS Response: The Area will reinvigorate its processes for meeting the required standards and put in a framework that provides the necessary assurance.

The Inspectorate acknowledged the challenge and the impact that the Covid pandemic had brought, as well as the substantial change that the Area has had to manage as a result of the intake of a large number of new prosecutors and significant changes in our legal leadership cadre.

The Area will continue to work effectively with CJS partners on an effective recovery plan supported by good case management and case progression.

The Area will also continue with its prosecutor development programme for new prosecutors and new legal leaders but will extend the same to address with all appropriate staff the issues identified by the Inspectorate as needing to be improved, all of which are accepted by the Area.

The actions to address the areas for improvement will be set out in an action plan that will be progressed and monitored by the Area Strategy Board.

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