CPS Response to HMCPSI Area Inspection Programme, CPS East Midlands Baseline Report
Her Majesty's Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) has today issued a report following their inspection of CPS East Midlands.
Inspectors assessed 90 cases from the CPS East Midlands Area. Throughout the inspection there were examples of excellent casework across all units.
The Inspectors recognised the Area’s grip in some of the most challenging cases. They assessed the Area’s grip in RASSO cases as 80% and 79.7% in the Crown Court cases. In the volume Magistrates Court cases the Inspectors assessed the added value provided by the Area as 66%.
There were strengths identified for the Area across all units in respect of the service provided to victims and witnesses post-charge. For example, the timely and appropriate warning of witnesses was an extremely positive aspect of casework. The report describes this aspect as a real strength for the Area and the Inspectors said that the Area “really does deserve credit for such strong performance on this important measure”.
The Inspectors found that the Area engages constructively at a senior level with all 5 police forces.
The Inspectors went on to say that one of the Area’s strengths is their compliance with their duty to directly engage with the defence and continuing to do this throughout the pandemic is commendable.
The Inspectors said it was a credit to the Area that there has been a demonstrable focus on staff well-being during the time of unprecedented pressures which had a positive impact on staff engagement. The Area is proud of the achievements of their committed engaged workforce and will continue to invest time in their development to improve performance.
Janine McKinney, Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS East Midlands said:
“The role of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate is to drive up performance and increase public confidence in the prosecution process. I welcome their report on CPS East Midlands and I thank them for a balanced and fair report.
I am pleased to see that the engagement of our people is praised and that there were examples of excellent casework in all our teams.
The Inspectors identified some real strengths across the Area, such as some aspects of the service we provide to victims and witnesses. I was delighted to see the Inspectors note that the Area deserved credit for such strong performance on such an important measure.
There are no specific recommendations in the report but some key issues to address. I am confident that improvements can be made before the Inspectors return to the Area for a follow-up inspection.”
Inspectorate’s issues to address:
There are a number of issues to address. The CPS provides its responses below and will continue to work with CJS partners in order to deliver improvements.
There is a significant need to improve the standard of legal analysis and case strategy. Prosecutors need to improve how they address trial strategy, disclosure and witness issues as well as ancillary orders:
This is a key priority for the Area. The Area will continue to work with lawyers to identify knowledge and skills gaps through their Individual Quality Assessments (IQAs). The Area will then continue to provide the correct training and support to ensure performance improves.
The Area will continue to recruit more lawyers to ease the pressure on people carrying a large caseload. New starters will be developed and trained through the national induction programme. Training will be rolled out across the Area focussing on case analysis and trial strategy.
Improvements are required in relation to identifying the need for a letter to be sent to victims and in sending a factually correct quality letter in a timely manner.
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.
Phase 3 of our ambitious programme of work to transform our service to victims is underway. 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.
The Area adds value through its work with victims and witnesses, by applying for appropriate orders at the conclusion of proceedings to protect the victim, witnesses and members of the public, particularly in Magistrates’ Court and RASSO cases and by making appropriate special measures applications to ensure victims and witnesses can achieve their best evidence in the majority of applicable cases, especially in Crown Court and RASSO cases.
Compliance with disclosure obligations needs improvement across all teams including working with the police to improve disclosure submissions:
The Area’s strategic JOIM will oversee the joint disclosure improvements needed and local JOIMs will review progress monthly. The Area has recently revised its disclosure action plan to ensure compliance and improvements in key areas.
Continuing disclosure was done well in Crown Court and RASSO cases showing that prosecutors are responding to defence statements appropriately and ensuring that cases are trial ready and will not be derailed by unresolved issues with unused material. The Magistrates’ Court and Crown Court teams were both very good at making appropriate decisions about bail and custody.
It is notable that there were few aspects of grip on either the Crown Court or RASSO teams that caused the Inspectors any concern.
The Area carries out a regular disclosure assurance review and the Area disclosure leads will continue work to improve compliance with the disclosure regime.
Some reviews simply copied and pasted the charging review without adding any further value this included when a significant event had occurred and this must change:
The Area recognises the need to ensure that when something significant happens on a case there is an audit trail on CMS of the decision making. It is important that we add value at key stages of every case. The Area will assure itself that this is happening through IQAs. Any training and development needs identified through IQAs will be overseen by the Area’s Casework Quality Assurance Board.
The Area needs an assurance process to ensure that the Speaking to Witnesses at Court (STWAC) guidance is followed and recorded:
The Inspectors found that the RASSO monitoring process in this aspect was positive. The Area will build on the good practice identified and introduce an assurance regime to ensure that there is evidence of compliance with our obligations in speaking to victims and witnesses at court.
The Area’s charging timeliness must improve so that the Area is providing pre charge advice in all cases within 28 days:
The Area is prioritising the completion of charging advices and has a plan in place to address the outstanding pre charge advices. The Area’s recruitment of new lawyers is continuing to build experience and resilience across the teams.
The Area needs to improve its instructions to the court Advocate:
The area recognises that instructions to advocates appearing in the Magistrates Court and Crown Court must be bespoke to ensure progress can be made at each hearing. The Area will work to ensure that instructions are refined to improve effectiveness and efficiency at each hearing.
Training will be delivered to ensure that reviews include comprehensive instructions to the court advocate including on applications for ancillary orders.