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CPS response to North East Area Inspection Programme Baseline Report, October 2021

|Publication

Her Majesty's Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) has today issued a report (12 October 2021) following the Area Inspection of CPS North East.

The report recognises the progress in, and commitment to, improving casework quality within the Area, and the hard work of the casework teams. It acknowledges our strengths and also identifies a number of issues which the senior leadership team is addressing both internally and with partners across the Criminal Justice System (CJS).

CPS North East Chief Crown Prosecutor Jan Lamping said: “We welcome the publication of this report which shows that we are continuing to deliver high standards of work and acknowledges our progress, despite the pressures of the backlogs caused by the pandemic.

"We are proud that the Inspectors found particular strengths, for example in our service to victims, and our casework quality in rape and serious sexual offence cases.

"We had already identified the same areas for improvement as the Inspectors have highlighted and work is underway to ensure that these are addressed.”

There are no specific recommendations in the report.

Issues to address

There are three key issues to address

1. The quality of analysis and strategy both pre and post charge needs to improve.

CPS Response: The Area agrees that there is scope for improvement in the quality and clarity of prosecutor reviews and in our handling of initial disclosure. The Area will build on the current work that is being undertaken on casework quality, ensuring that these specific areas for improvement are incorporated into all legal reviews. Progress will be assured through an increase in casework quality monitoring. 

2. Preparedness for first hearing needs to improve.

CPS Response: The Area agrees with this finding and had commenced work to address this issue prior to the inspection. We have already seen some benefits from that work and will continue to monitor progress.

3. Whilst the report acknowledges real strengths in the Area’s service to victims and witnesses the quality of letters to victims and consideration of special measures requires improvement.

CPS Response: The Area agrees that we must continue to work on the quality of our communications with victims. We will be delivering further training and we have already increased the level of scrutiny of our letters to victims, both internally and also from our Local Scrutiny Panels which are made up of members of our local communities. 
The Area is working to improve the support provided to victims by strengthening our relationship with those who provide support services to victims of sexual offences, offering post-charge meetings with prosecutors to rape victims, making full use of pre-recorded cross-examination to avoid the need to victims to attend trial, more effective use of remote evidence links and closer monitoring of our compliance with the Victims Code of Practice. 
We are pleased that the report acknowledges the improvements which have already been made, and we will continue to focus on this crucial aspect of our work. 

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.

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