CPS response to South East Area Inspection Programme Baseline Report, October 2021
Her Majesty's Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) have today issued a report following their Inspection of the effectiveness of the Crown Prosecution Service, South East Area.
CPS Chief Crown Prosecutor Kate Brown said: “We welcome the publication of this report, which shows that our sustained focus on casework quality and decision making is having a real impact on how effectively we can progress cases on behalf of victims.
“We had already identified the same areas for improvement as the inspectors have acknowledged and work is underway to ensure that these are addressed.
“Considering that this assessment was carried out during the pandemic, which resulted in a significant increase in live caseloads, our staff can be exceptionally proud of the work highlighted in the report.
“They have all faced a very difficult time over the last year and, despite that, the report clearly finds that, once the pressures from the pandemic ease, we will be in a good position to deliver further improvements to our casework quality.”
There are no specific recommendations in the report.
Inspectorate's Issues to address
There are four issues to address which relate solely to the CPS South East. The CPS provides its responses below and will continue to work with CJS partners in order to deliver these issues to address:-
1. The quality and clarity of prosecutor reviews needs to continue to improve, particularly around trial strategy, bad character and hearsay applications and applications and ancillary matters to support victims and witnesses
CPS Response: The Area agrees that there is scope for improvement in the quality and clarity of prosecutor reviews. 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. More focus is needed on the quality of pre-charge action plans given to the police and the instructions given to advocates in court, particularly around the acceptability of pleas.
CPS Response: The Area agrees that there is scope for improvement in the quality of pre-charge action plans and instructions to advocates. 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.
3. There was an inconsistent approach to post-sending reviews with insufficient value added in many cases.
CPS Response: The Area agrees that there is scope for improvement in the approach to post-sending reviews. 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.
4. It was recognised that, although improvements have been made, the timeliness of the Area’s letters to victims has dropped and more than half of the letters examined did not fully meet the required standard.
CPS Response: The Area has made improvement in relation to timeliness and the Area will continue to build upon recent success to make further improvements to both the timeliness and quality of letters to victims. This will be achieved through management scrutiny and the involvement and inclusion of feedback from CJS partners and the wider community. We will be delivering further training and 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 for victims to attend trial and more effective use of remote evidence links. 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 ongoing national work to listen to victims' views on the service we provide will inform our local approach going forward. The Area will also engage fully with the national CPS Victims and Witness Network to drive improvements in how we deliver on our commitments to victims and witnesses. 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.