CPS response to West Midlands Area Inspection Programme Baseline Report, October 2021
Her Majesty's Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) has today issued a report following the Area Inspection of CPS West Midlands.
The report recognises the strengths of the Area, including noting that the Area added significant value and excelled in making good prosecutorial decisions, as well as adding value when making decisions and considering issues relating to victims and witnesses.
It also acknowledges the challenging environment within which the Area has been operating within during the Covid-19 pandemic given the significant increase in casework at a time when the Area was carrying out a significant recruitment drive.
CPS West Midlands Chief Crown Prosecutor Siobhan Blake said: “We welcome the publication of this report which acknowledges the high-quality service we offer to the community we serve despite the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.
"We welcome the Inspector’s assessment that we make excellent charging decisions and add value to issues relating to victims and witnesses.
"We are grateful that the hard work and professionalism of our dedicated people during an extremely challenging period has been acknowledged within these findings.
"We acknowledge that there are still areas where can improve and we are committed to a programme of continuous improvement.”
There are no specific recommendations in the report.
Issues to address
There are three key issues to address:-
1. Sharing of hard media prior to the PTPH needs to improve.
CPS Response: The Area accepts it has to improve its processes for sharing hard media. It is working closely with police partners to reduce the amount of hard media by implementing digital systems. The hard media backlogs which had developed due to the pandemic have now been addressed.
2. Compliance with the duty of initial disclosure needs to improve.
CPS Response: The Area has already identified the need to improve the standard of initial disclosure. The implementation of a local disclosure action plan is underway with oversight being provided by the Casework Quality Board chaired by the CCP.
3. Improvements in the quality and timeliness of Victim Communications.
CPS Response: The Area accepts that although demonstrating much good practice with respect to victims and witnesses, there is room for improvement on the quality and timeliness of victim communications. Accordingly, the Area has introduced a weekly dip sample process of letter quality by line managers to ensure continuous improvement.
The Area has also appointed legal SPOCs on each unit to work collaboratively with the VLU providing feedback on quality and timeliness. This is supported by daily checks to ensure peer review and drive up quality. The findings from the peer reviews is fed into the weekly assurance report provided to the senior management team and feedback is given to the victim liaison officers.
The Area has also established a Bi-monthly forum where an independent panel consisting of both operational delivery and legal staff is invited to review a selection of anonymised victim communication letters to assess the quality of letters sent. The findings are then fed back to the legal managers in order for them to drive improvements in their team.
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.