Area Assurance Inspection of CPS Wessex

Date of publication
13 December 2016
Inspection
Organisation
Crown Prosecution Service
Inspection category
Area Assurance Inspection
CPS Region
Wessex

This inspection was carried out to look at whether the CPS in Wessex delivers the maximum benefit for users and stakeholders with the resources available.

Inspectors gave the Area an overall score of “good” for the success of CPS people; “excellent” for continuously improving; and “fair” for high quality casework and public confidence.

Criteria Score
Effective leadership Good
Work effectively with criminal justice partners Good
Commitment to CPS values Good
Analysis of Area’s key performance data to inform allocation of resources Good
Management of resources Excellent
Joined up working Good
Reviews and decisions (magistrates’ courts) Poor
Case preparation and progression (magistrates’ courts) Fair
Reviews and decisions (Crown Court) Fair
Case preparation and progression (Crown Court) Good
Communicating with victims Poor
Appropriate use of remand or bail conditions reflecting the views of victims and witnesses Fair
Responsive to community groups Good

Inspectors found that there is strong leadership by senior managers, which is acknowledged and appreciated by staff in the Area. The Area has a very high level of staff engagement. In the 2015 Civil Service staff survey (the latest available at the time the inspection took place) Wessex achieved a score of 70%. This was significantly higher than the CPS national figure of 54% and was the highest score achieved by any CPS Area. The Area has been successful in establishing very positive relationships with its staff, which is a solid foundation to build upon. It must now use this to address the shortcomings in the quality of its casework and the service to victims and witnesses, which will in turn improve the service to the public.

The Area has also worked hard to build relationships with local criminal justice partners and other stakeholders and uses feedback from these groups to identify strengths and weaknesses in the service it provides.

Wessex performed well in regard to analysing its performance and received a rating of “excellent” as regards the management and deployment of its resources. The Area provides value for money. The current situation represents a significant improvement over the past two years.

Performance around its casework was more mixed. Inspectors found a lack of effective challenge to the police around the quality of files submitted and a need to increase the quality of its casework, particularly in cases dealt with in the magistrates’ court.

Inspectors found some evidence of compliance with the Victims’ Code and policies on communications with victims. However, performance is weak in relation to the quality of correspondence with victims.

The quality of letters fully met the standard in only 37.5% of cases in the file sample, with quality being lower in Crown Court cases than in magistrates’ courts cases. This is concerning. Letters did not explain things clearly, were impersonal or contained too much legal language. When inspectors visited the Area in 2015 the quality was found to be fully met in only 14.3% of cases – there has been some increase in the quality of these letters, but it is clear that this remains an aspect for improvement.

The Area needs to do more to improve in the following areas:

1   The Area should reconsider local Prosecution Team Performance Management meetings as an effective means by which to drive forward improvement strategies at an operational level.

2   The Area needs to work with, and challenge where necessary, the police forces to improve the quality of police files submitted.

3   The Area needs to put a mechanism in place to enable managers to effectively quality assure the initial reviews of their teams so as to improve quality.

4   The Area needs to ensure that prosecutors undertake a full review of unused material and record their decisions on the disclosure record sheet.

5   The Area needs to ensure that hearing record sheets are entered promptly and accurately onto the case management system.

6   The Area needs to improve its case preparation work and comply fully with the requirements of the Transforming Summary Justice initiative.

7   The Area should reconsider its arrangements with the police forces for dealing with disclosure in volume crime cases in the Crown Court.

8   An effective mechanism should be put in place to ensure that Victim Communication and Liaison communications are of a high standard and sent in all appropriate cases. This should include re-visiting training for all relevant staff and ensuring the prosecutor drafts the appropriate paragraph.

Background

CPS Wessex has offices at Eastleigh, Portsmouth and Chippenham, and is aligned with Hampshire and Isle of Wight, Dorset and Wiltshire police forces. It covers 11 magistrates’ courts and eight Crown Court centres.

Inspectors examined 58 magistrates’ courts and 62 Crown Court files finalised between 1 April to 30 June 2016.

Fieldwork took place in October 2016. Inspectors spoke with members of the judiciary, representatives of partner agencies and CPS staff, both formally and informally. Court observations were undertaken to assess the effectiveness of case progression.

CPS Wessex Area Assurance Inspection report (292.72 kB)