CPS Response to the HMCPSI Inspection Report into the effective use of agents in the magistrates’ court

|Publication

HMCPSI have today (12 March 2020) published a report into the work of the CPS in relation to the effective use of agents in the magistrates’ court.

We are pleased that Inspectors acknowledge that we have effective financial systems in place to monitor our agents’ expenditure, noting that the national resourcing strategy is sensible and cost effective. Inspectors have also recognised the challenges that the CPS face when booking agents for magistrates’ courts cases, and have noted that CPS Areas have the flexibility and autonomy to decide how best to deploy agents to meet their specific needs.

We welcome the finding that CPS Areas were providing case papers to agents in good time and that they were of sufficient quality. We recognise that contact details need to be provided to avoid unnecessary delay.

We are developing a national Service Level Agreement, which details requirements of data handling, digital presentation at court and use of CJSM secure e-mail, and Agents’ Pack, a comprehensive reference tool setting out expectations for agents when prosecuting for the CPS. We will explore developing a national toolkit to assist with agents’ deployment. Agents have regulatory obligations of competency and we will also make sure that agents we instruct are clear about our expectations, standards and training requirements.

Inspectorate’s Recommendations for CPS

1. CPS Headquarters should provide key tools needed to manage agents effectively and ensure quality including a model deployment rota (electronic resource planner), taking account of in-house and agent usage that accurately identifies gaps and enables cost effective deployment.

CPS Response:
CPS Headquarters will develop a toolkit to enable Areas to better manage their advocacy resource, building upon the guidance and deployment models already in existence and ensuring that the model is sufficiently flexible to operate effectively in all Areas.

2. CPS Headquarters should develop general principles and produce guidance on processes for the introduction of new agents, including consideration of the viability of creating a national agent register.

CPS Response:
CPS Headquarters will develop principles for the introduction of new agents and consider the suggestion above.

3. CPS Areas should ensure the right quality of agents is being selected through ensuring appropriate introductory checks are conducted, strengthened induction processes for agents are in place, and using service level agreements (SLA) to ensure that expectations are understood and accepted.

CPS Response:
A new national SLA and Agents’ Pack will be available in May 2020, ensuring that both the CPS and agents have a clear understanding of the standards expected.

4. CPS Areas need to ensure that all agents are provided with contact details to enable effective and efficient contact supporting case decisions to be made that do not delay the case.

CPS Response:
Area contact details will be included in the new national Agents’ Pack.

5. CPS Headquarters should:

  • set out clear expectations and guiding principles for the induction and training of agents to support satisfactory agent quality; and
  • develop a national agent pack to support the national service level agreement and related service expectations.

CPS Response:
CPS Headquarters will review and update the existing guidance on induction and training for agents, ensuring alignment with membership of the Advocate Panel. The new national Agents’ Pack mentioned in response to recommendation 3 will confirm our expectations.

6. CPS Areas should introduce a clearer planned approach to agent training, taking account of any national principles and guidance, and including use of the External Prosecution College.

CPS Response:
CPS Areas will ensure that the induction and ongoing training of agents is aligned to the principles set out in the Advocate Panel guidance.

7. CPS Headquarters should develop general principles and produce guidance on:

  • Individual quality assessment (IQA) expectations for agents, as a minimum as part of induction and to investigate concerns.
  • Make clear how concerns should be investigated and relevant information shared between Areas.

CPS Response:
CPS Headquarters will update the Errant Conduct and Poor Performance Guidance to better reflect magistrates' court agents. This will reference the external advocacy assessment (EAA) framework as a means of monitoring performance.

8. CPS Areas should ensure the right quality of agents is being selected through:

  • The use of individual quality assessments (IQA).
  • Consistent and effective dealing with concerns, and, effective sharing of information.

CPS Response:
Areas will continue to work with agents to improve quality where there are aspects of concern. Areas will receive guidance on how the EAA can be used and how poor performance can be referred to the Circuit Advocacy Liaison Committee (CALC).