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CPS response to Yorkshire and Humberside Area Inspection Programme Baseline Report, April 2022

|Publication

Her Majesty's Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) has today issued a report following the Area Inspection of CPS Yorkshire and Humberside.

Inspectors assessed 90 cases from the CPS Yorkshire and Humberside Area. The assessment was carried out during the Covid-19 pandemic and the report recognises the hard work and dedication shown by the CPS Yorkshire and Humberside staff. 

One of the main functions of the CPS is to make decisions as to whether a suspect should be charged with a criminal offence, and if so, what those charges should be. The report found that this was a key strength in CPS Yorkshire and Humberside, with the Area making the right charging decisions and selecting the right charges in over 94% of the cases.

The report found that there was good grip on the Crown Court cases. They were charged promptly, and generally progressed efficiently and effectively. There were no Crown Court cases where Judge’s Orders were not complied with. This grip was noted as “truly impressive in the circumstances” of a large increase in cases being received from the police and the additional challenges resulting from the pandemic. 

The report commended the Area’s Rape and Serious Sexual offences team for seeking appropriate orders on sentencing to protect victims, witnesses, and the public, and also for complying with the speaking to witnesses at court protocol, consulting witnesses where appropriate, and handling witness care correspondence which was all noted as very good. It was notable that the RASSO team made correct charging decisions in 100% of the cases.

There are a number of improvements that need to be made: to make sure that the Area “adds value” in its casework; has sufficient grip of all case types and complies with its duties of disclosure. 

Claire Lindley, Chief Crown Prosecutor CPS Yorkshire and Humberside said: 

“The role of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate is to drive improvements and build public confidence in the prosecution process. I welcome their scrutiny and thank them for this fair and balanced report. 

“I am pleased to see that the hard work and dedication of the staff in the Area is recognised, given the difficult circumstances they have been working in due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“There are some real strengths in this Area, and they have been noted. In particular the Inspectors stated that our staff correctly applied the Code for Crown Prosecutors in over 94% of the cases examined, which is to be commended.

“It is also pleasing to see that there were other aspects of strength for the Area such as the grip we have on our Crown Court cases and the service we provide to victims and witnesses post-charge, especially the victims of rape and serious sexual offences.

“The report has however, highlighted a number of issues to address and we are confident that improvements can be made before the Inspectors revisit the Area for a follow up inspection.”

There are no specific recommendations in the report, but there are some key issues to address. These are all accepted by the Area and work is now underway in order to improve the following:
 

There is room to improve on grip and how cases are progressed, and a significant need to improve legal analysis and case strategy at the pre charge stage. 

CPS Response: 

The good practice found on the Crown Court team will be shared with the other teams. 

Live training sessions will be rolled out, focussing on casework grip and case progression. 

We will continue to recruit more lawyers and managers to ease the pressure on our staff who are carrying a large caseload. 

New starters and inexperienced staff will be developed and trained through the national induction programme.

Progress will be assured through thematic Individual Quality Assessments (IQAs) which will be monitored through the Area’s Casework Quality Board. 
 

Compliance with disclosure obligations needs improvement across all casework types. 

CPS Response: 

Although it should be noted that none of the disclosure failings that the Inspectors found affected the outcome of the cases, disclosure is an ongoing priority and concern. 

The Area has a Disclosure Action Plan, an Area Lead and team champions. They will continue with their hard work in sharing good practice and improving compliance with the disclosure regime. 

Live training sessions will be rolled out, focusing on our disclosure obligations.

We will continue with our joint work with the police to improve police file quality and their understanding of the disclosure requirements.

Our performance on disclosure will be assessed by the Disclosure Group, the Casework Quality Board and through the national Disclosure Assurance process.
 

Reviews prior to the first hearing in the magistrates’ court or conducted at the time of service in the Crown Court were assessed as not meeting the standard required in over half the cases assessed.

CPS Response:

It is important that we add value at these key stages of the life of a case. Setting out actions, case analysis and strategy are not just matter of record keeping but are essential for others considering the case and to promote rigour. 

The standard of reviews will be assured through the IQAs that are conducted in Area. 

Any development or training needs identified through the IQAs will be directed to the Casework Quality Board for decisions to be made on training and its delivery.
 

While some aspects of victim and witness care is commended, improvements are required in relation to the quality and timeliness of victim communication and liaison (VCL) letters.

CPS Response: 

We recognise the importance of getting our communications with victims right. 

We will continue to quality assess our letters to identify improvements and to share good practice.  We will recommence our VCL Panels that were paused during the pandemic. 

Our Victim and Witness performance will be assessed by our newly- established Victim and Witness Forum, to ensure best practice is shared and to identify training needs.

Our Local Scrutiny and Improvement Panels (LSIPs) will be asked to assist in quality assuring the VCL letters. LSIPs are members of the public and local community groups who assist us by scrutinising our decisions and our casework.

For new starters, we will place increased focus on victim communications through the area induction programme.

The Area will continue to work with those who support the victims of crime and ensure our compliance with the Victims Code of Practice.

The ongoing national work to listen to victims’ views on the service we provide will inform our local approach going forward. Nationally, we are conducting a three-phase programme of work:

1. 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.
 
2. 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. 
 
3. In phase three 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 two. 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 three to design improved approaches.

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