CPS response to London North Area Inspection Programme Baseline Report, May 2022
Her Majesty's Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) have today issued a report following their inspection of CPS London North.
This report is set against the context of delivering justice throughout the challenges brought about by the pandemic. The Area experienced a significant increase in caseload and continues to carry substantial backlogs in the Crown Court. Recruitment challenges during this period have exacerbated existing pressures and that has meant experienced prosecutors and managers have had to balance the increase while supporting new prosecutors and managers.
We welcome the report which identifies strengths in our casework handling. The inspection identified that the Area adds value through its code compliant decision making in Magistrates and Crown Court casework.
The inspection also identified good evidence of grip in the Magistrates Court with clear audit trails of key events, decisions and action taken and in the Crown Court decision making in its handling of pleas, where inspectors agreed with all decisions assessed.
The inspection identified that the Area adds value in its RASSO casework with almost all defendants prosecuted for the correct offences and with all action plans meeting or partially meeting the required standard.
In addition, the Area demonstrates grip in its RASSO casework fully meeting the standard for timeliness of post sending reviews in 82.4% of cases, fully meeting the standard for timeliness and effectiveness of witness care communications in 81.3% of cases and responses to additional police material assessed as timely and effective in 90% of cases assessed.
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.
The inspection identified that the Area adds value in its work with victims and witnesses in particular seeking appropriate orders to protect victims, witnesses and the public, however, identified that there is work to do on the quality of victim communication letters.
Inspectorate Issues to address
The five main issues to address:
- The Area has work to do to improve case strategy and analysis on the Magistrates’ Court and Crown Court teams pre-charge.
- Improvement is also needed on case analysis and case strategy post charge in the Magistrates Court and Crown Court.
- Improvement is needed in relation to compliance with our disclosure obligations across all casework.
- The Area needs to improve on preparedness for first hearings in the Magistrates’ Court and PTPHs in the Crown Court.
- Across all casework the quality of VCL letters needs to be improved.
The Area has developed an overarching casework quality strategy with specific plans for each casework unit. This will be complemented by an assurance framework that will support the Area to drive improvements.
The strategy includes a focus on training and support for our lawyers and legal managers and a focus on effective quality checks and feedback for our legal managers.
The Area will drive up the number of Individual Quality Assessments (IQA) completed and will increase the dip sampling undertaken by our Senior District Crown Prosecutors and Deputy Chief Crown Prosecutors.
Unit level Casework Quality meetings will continue to feed into Area level Casework Quality Board, but we will increase the presence of our District Crown Prosecutors and Senior District Crown Prosecutors at the forum so that feedback can be delivered via the unit management team as well as continuing to communicate lessons and message via the regular newsletter.
1. The Area has work to do to improve case strategy and analysis in Magistrates’ Court and Crown Court casework pre-charge.
The Area will focus on the value added in pre-charge reviews through increased IQA’s and IQA dip sampling. With the inspection findings as a baseline, the Area will regularly review IQA findings to develop training and support opportunities to drive up quality.
2. Improvement is also needed on case analysis and case strategy post charge in the Crown Court and Magistrates’ Court.
The Area has introduced a legal manager quality check of all pre PTPH reviews completed, which will be extended to a check of the quality of significant event reviews.
Likewise, in the Magistrates Court a dip check to assess the quality and timeliness of initial reviews has been implemented.
3. Improvement is needed in relation to compliance with our disclosure obligations.
The Area has implemented a framework for assessing compliance with the Directors Guidance on disclosure. Checks are undertaken by legal managers to check that reviews are compliant. This will include cases where a review is undertaken, and no assessment is completed. Working with police colleagues, we will build on the feedback provided in our assessments to identify themes and drill into the common issues.
We have reinvigorated our escalation process and have refreshed the governance structure with the police for our joint disclosure improvement work. Escalations will be monitored and feedback provided. We are working with our teams to improve our response to inadequate disclosure schedules. We will assess improvements via the increased number of Individual Quality Assessments and drive further improvement by supporting our managers to deliver quality feedback. Findings from our dip sampling and IQA’s will be monitored, and themes will be fed back through our working groups.
4. The Area needs to work on preparedness for first hearings in the Magistrates’ Court and PTPHs in the Crown Court.
The Area has introduced a 100% check for pre-first hearing NGAP reviews and will introduce a dip check of quality. Feedback will also be encouraged from our court based legal managers, who have firsthand experience of the quality.
The Area has also implemented a check pre-PTPH, which is supported by joint working between our Operational Delivery and legal manager colleagues to improve the quality and timeliness of PTPH preparation.
5. Across all units the quality 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 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 have conducted bespoke user needs research to better understand the needs and preferences of victims in their communications with the CPS. 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. 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 has now been completed with high level findings to be shared in due course.
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. Later this year, we will engage with stakeholders on the back of the research and start Phase 3 to design improved approaches.