HMCPSI produces reports with our findings and recommendations. We advise the Director of Public Prosecutions (the independent head of the CPS) on the performance of each CPS Area, Headquarters Directorates and of the CPS as a whole. HMCPSI also advises the Director SFO on the performance of the SFO. We submit an annual report to the Attorney General on the operation of the CPS and SFO which is laid before Parliament.

Inspection is a skill recognised by the Civil Service. Like the audit function that it resembles, effective inspection requires skill and experience in inspection techniques, methodology and how to achieve a fair and independent review. As well as inspection being a skill in its own right, effective inspection also requires a thorough understanding of how those being inspected operate. In the case of HMCPSI this requires that inspectors have knowledge of relevant law, practice and guidance under which the body inspected operates. It is also advantageous if some involved in the inspection to have recent expertise in the subject matter.

In general terms HMCPSI achieves this balance by having a staffing model that consists of a proportion of permanent staff and staff on loan, usually from the CPS. Those on loan often come to the inspectorate for two to three year postings, although for specific inspections we may use seconded staff or associate inspectors as part of the inspection team.

This knowledge and experience is essential when what is required is an inspection report that is accepted as being informed and showing understanding of the work of the body being inspected. Only then can reports have the traction to drive improvement in the inspected organisation.

Legal file examination plays a key role in the majority of inspections we carry out. HMCPSI has direct access to the CPS case management system. This gives HMCPSI the ability to examine case files without the need to have paper files sent to us. For SFO inspections inspectors are provided with SFO case access through the provision of additional laptops. In all inspections where there is file examination element, each case is examined against a set of questions specifically formulated for the inspection. These questions provide the framework which allows individual inspectors to achieve a consistent approach to file examination and ensures that all aspects set out in the inspection framework are covered. Inspection frameworks are shared with the inspected body in line with the ten principles of inspection.

Inspection needs to be informed but it also needs to be independent and objective in its findings. We do that in a number of ways. All inspectors’ work is subject to dip sampling and quality assurance and no inspection is made up by one inspector working alone. There is also an established methodology. This includes the use of consistency exercises. The basis of a consistency exercise is that all inspectors examine the same files against the file examination guidance and possible question answers and note their answers to all of the questions posed in respect of each case. A meeting is then held where every inspector involved in the inspection sets out their judgement and answers they made in respect of each file examined. In this way we can ensure that there is a consistency of approach and of the standards being applied and any misinterpreting of the inspection question or the associated guidance can be discussed. If, as a result of the quality assurance, one or more inspector is identified as being regularly inconsistent, further superintendence of that inspector is undertaken. In line with our inspection methodology we carry out consistency exercises throughout the period of the file examination.

The ten principles of inspection

The principles of inspection in this policy statement place the following expectations on inspection providers and on the departments sponsoring them:

  1. The purpose of improvement. There should be an explicit concern on the part of inspectors to contribute to the improvement of the service being inspected. This should guide the focus, method, reporting and follow-up of inspection. In framing recommendations, an inspector should recognise good performance and address any failure appropriately. Inspection should aim to generate data and intelligence that enable departments more quickly to calibrate the progress of reform in their sectors and make appropriate adjustments.
  2. A focus on outcomes, which means considering service provision to users of the services rather than concentrating on internal management arrangements.
  3. A user perspective. Inspection should have a clear focus on the experience of those for whom the service is provided, as well as on internal management arrangements. Inspection should encourage innovation and diversity and not be solely compliance-based.
  4. Proportionate to risk. Over time, inspectors should modify the extent of future inspection according to the quality of performance by the service provider. For example, good performers should undergo less inspection, so that resources are concentrated on areas of greatest risk.
  5. Inspectors should encourage rigorous self-assessment by managers. Inspectors should challenge the results of managers’ self-assessments, take them into account in the inspection process, and provide a comparative benchmark.
  6. Inspectors should use impartial evidence. Evidence, whether quantitative or qualitative, should be validated and credible.
  7. Inspectors should disclose the criteria they use to form judgments.
  8. Inspectors should be open about their processes, willing to take any complaints seriously, and able to demonstrate a robust quality assurance process.
  9. Inspectors should have regard to value for money, their own included.
  10. Inspectors should continually learn from experience, to become increasingly effective. This can be done by assessing their own impact on the service provider’s ability to improve, and by sharing best practice with other inspectors.