Better Case Management

Date of publication
03 November 2016
Inspection
Participating inspectorate
HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate
Inspection type
Thematic

This report assesses the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) compliance with the Crown Court Better Case Management (BCM) initiative.

BCM is a judicially led initiative superintended by the Senior Presiding Judge. It piloted in a number of Crown Courts in late 2015, and then rolled out in all courts in January 2016. BCM aims to introduce a consistent approach to Crown Court business, helping cases to progress through the system more efficiently by eliciting early guilty pleas, reducing the number of hearings, maximising participation and engagement from every criminal justice system agency and ensuring compliance with the Criminal Procedure Rules. This should in turn improve the quality of service to victims and witnesses.

This review has taken place at an early stage to help the CPS identify what is working well and what needs improvement or more detailed scrutiny. The review does not make recommendations, but details the issues that inspectors consider need to be addressed.

BCM is one of many new initiatives for the CPS. The need for a co-ordinated roll out of the various complex projects has been particularly challenging for the CPS, and it has risen to this challenge.

The CPS’s objective under BCM is to ensure that the right cases are charged, the case files comply with the National File Standard and an allocated lawyer owns the case for its duration after charge. If this happens, it should facilitate active engagement with the defence, and enable hearings to be effective and cases to progress with the support of robust judicial oversight.

Inspectors commended the CPS contribution to planning and implementation at national and local levels, the current governance arrangements and the training and resource materials that have been made available to staff. The CPS is fully engaged and committed to BCM and there is a good deal of ‘buy-in’ by staff. This is a promising start which is backed up by some positive indications from early data, but there now needs to be far greater compliance with the various stages of the process and steps taken to change the mind-set of staff towards engaging effectively with the defence.

The quality of high level decision-making by the CPS in relation to the application of the Code for Crown Prosecutors was excellent. The detail was less good in relation to the case analysis and strategy, with fewer than 50% of cases in the file sample addressing this properly. This restricts the CPS’s ability to ‘get it right first time’. Many files were not of the required standard; this was compounded by the CPS not drawing the failings to the attention of the police force concerned. There was very little direct engagement with the defence before the first hearing in the magistrates’ court; this took place in fewer than 10% of cases.

In only two thirds of cases were proper instructions given to the advocate to provide a clear direction about the case and ensure the first hearing, which is always in the magistrates’ court, is as effective as it can be.

Following the first hearing the case should be reviewed within 72 hours. 56.5% of cases received a proper and proportionate case review with a further 28.8% having received some sort of review but only 13.7% were reviewed within the prescribed time.

After the first hearing and before the Plea and Trial Preparation Hearing (PTPH), there should be timely service of the prosecution bundle of evidence, the indictment and the PTPH form. Inspectors found that all of these aspects need to be carried out more efficiently than they presently are. Engagement with the defence before the hearing was inconsistent and not effective; this needs significant improvement for the initiative to succeed. Neither the prosecution nor the defence have yet made the cultural shift required, and this needs to be addressed as a priority.

129 PTPH cases were effective of the 182 inspectors observed. Inspections found a number of guilty pleas that should have been identified earlier by the prosecutor to allow for an effective sentence hearing, and opportunities to reduce the number of hearings in individual cases.

In general, the current approach puts an emphasis on the process as opposed to what the process is meant to achieve.

New initiatives take time to embed and even longer for the expected benefits to become apparent. Having said that in many courts it was difficult to discern any changes from the previous regime and the various compliance failures were marked. The CPS needs to maintain a focus on the initiative to ensure any momentum is not lost and drive improvement in terms of compliance with BCM expectations. Only then can the scheme be embedded, and the expected benefits of improved effectiveness, efficiency savings and a better service for victims and witnesses be delivered.

Background

Inspectors visited all 13 CPS Areas in July 2016 and observed Plea and Trial Preparation Hearings in 30 Crown Court centres. Inspectors observed hearings in two courts in each CPS Area except CPS London, where observations were undertaken at six court centres. Inspectors spoke to representatives for the prosecution, defence and the Crown Court on an informal basis during court visits to gain insight about the progress of implementation and effectiveness of the initiative. Across the 30 court centres they examined a total of 186 cases listed for PTPH.

Other new initiatives being implemented by the CPS are: Transforming Summary Justice, the new Casework Standard Operating Practice (SOP) and the introduction of the Digital Case File.

Better Case Management: A Snapshot (299.24 kB)