The way we inspect organisations is intended to:

  • Support continuous improvement
  • Base our findings on evidence that has been thoroughly researched, verified and evaluated according to consistent standards and criteria
  • Demonstrate integrity, objectivity and professionalism throughout the inspection
  • Reduce the burden of inspection on the organisations we inspect

This animation explains how our inspections work.

To read a transcript of the animation. (122 kB)

The phases of an inspection

Phase 1. Scoping and planning

The different organisations and topics we examine mean inspections are rarely exactly alike. So each inspection starts with a scoping and planning exercise, where we define exactly what we will look at, how we will gather evidence, and what resources we will need.

One thing we look at is whether we should conduct the inspection alone, or partner with another inspectorate. In some inspections, bringing in another inspectorate can lead to a more rounded examination of issues that cut across the prosecution process.

We set out the remit of the inspection in a brief scoping paper, which we share with the organisation being inspected. We will usually liaise with an expert in that organisation to produce a more detailed version of the scoping paper.

With the scope agreed, we draft a framework that sets out the key question the inspection will address, along with a sub-set of questions that will direct the focus of the inspection work.

Phase 2. Setting up

Having defined the aim and scope of the inspection, we develop the methodology: the combination of techniques we will use to carry out the inspection.

Next we identify the specific units or teams within the organisation that will take part in the inspection. We contact these units to share the inspection framework, request any documents we will need, and arrange for our inspection team to visit.

If the methodology includes surveys, we send these to the organisation’s staff, or to representatives of organisations that work with the organisation being inspected.

Phase 3. Off-site evaluation

During this phase, we examine case files, review documents provided by the organisation being inspected, analyse responses to surveys, and conduct early interviews.

Case file examination

Case file examination is a key part of the majority of inspections we carry out.

We select a sample of relevant case files to examine and evaluate, using a consistent set of questions specifically formulated for the inspection. We compile and analyse the results of this evaluation to arrive at an independent measure of the organisation’s performance. For example, we can report the percentage of files we examined that fully complied with the policies or guidance issued by the organisation.

HMCPSI has direct access to the Crown Prosecution Service’s electronic case management system, so we can examine CPS case files without any action from the CPS. When we inspect the Serious Fraud Office, our inspectors are provided with laptops that give them access to the organisation’s case files.

Document review

We analyse relevant documentation provided by the organisation being inspected, such as business plans, staff survey results, casework performance reports, case outcome statistics and complaints. We usually do this remotely, using electronic copies of the documents.

Early interviews

We may carry out some interviews during this phase, often with relevant staff working at a national level in the organisation being inspected, and with representatives from other criminal justice system organisations such as the police or the courts service.

Phase 4. On-site visits

Most inspections require us to visit the organisation being inspected in person. During these visits, we speak to the organisation’s staff, some in interviews and some as part of focus groups. We may also visit courts to observe how cases are being prosecuted. In some inspections, we may speak to victims and witnesses, as well as others from outside the organisation being inspected.

We aim to minimise the burden created by our visits. On most inspections, we would not expect to spend more than three days on-site in any given location.

Phase 5. Evaluation and report writing

We review all the evidence we have gathered to determine the key findings of the inspection, and to identify good practice, recommendations and issues to address. These form the basis of our inspection report.

When the report has been through our own quality assurance processes, we share it with the organisation being inspected. This gives the organisation the chance to highlight any factual inaccuracies. It is not an opportunity to influence our findings, except if we accept that they are based on factual inaccuracies.

Our Head of Inspection reviews all inspection reports and provides the inspection teams with feedback on the report to help them improve.

Once the report is complete, it is published on our website.

Browse our inspection reports

The right people for an inspection

The civil service recognises inspection as a job that requires skills and experience in inspection techniques, inspection methodology and how to achieve a fair and independent inspection.

We believe that an effective inspection also requires team members to have a thorough understanding of the organisation being inspected. In our case, this means knowledge of the law, and the practice and guidance used by the organisation. It also helps for some of the inspection team to have recent expertise in the subject matter.

We achieve this balance of inspection skills and understanding of the organisations we inspect with a combination of permanent staff and staff on loan.

Staff on loan usually come to us from the CPS, normally for two to three years. For specific inspections, we may bring in seconded staff or associate inspectors on a more temporary basis.

Independence and quality assurance

We want our inspections to be independent and our findings objective. We have a number of measures in place to ensure this.

Our inspections are always conducted by a team, never one inspector working alone.

Our established inspection methodology includes consistency exercises, where each inspector in the team examines the same subset of case files against the same criteria, and the team compares notes. These exercises show whether the team members are all interpreting the criteria, standards, guidance and inspection questions in a consistent way. These exercises are chaired by the Head of Inspection and the lead inspector to make sure there is a level of independence. We carry out these exercises regularly throughout each case file examination.

All inspectors’ work is also subject to dip sampling and quality assurance.

If our quality assurance processes regularly identify a particular inspector’s work as being inconsistent with the team, that inspector will be supervised more closely.

HMCPSI Inspection Strategy

Please view our inspection strategy from April 2024 to March 2027

HMCPSI Inspection Strategy 2024-27 (178 kB)

Principles of inspection

We subscribe to the ten principles of inspection, which are part of the government’s policy on the inspection of public services.

  1. The purpose of improvement
    Inspectorates should aim to contribute to the improvement of the organisation they inspect. This should guide the focus, methods, reporting and follow-up activity of inspections. When framing recommendations, inspectorates should recognise good practice and address any failure in an appropriate way. Inspections should aim to generate data and intelligence that enables organisations to support progress in their sectors.
  2. A focus on outcomes
    Inspectorates should consider the services the organisation being inspected provides to people, rather than concentrating on the organisation’s internal management arrangements.
  3. A user perspective
    Inspections should focus on the experiences of people who use the organisation’s services, as well as on the organisation’s internal management arrangements. Inspections should encourage innovation and diversity, and not just be about compliance with standards.
  4. Proportionate to risk
    Over time, inspectorates should modify their inspection programmes according to the outcomes of previous inspections. For example, organisations that perform well should be inspected less often, so the inspectorate can concentrate its resources on the areas with the greatest risk.
  5. Rigorous self-assessment
    Inspectorates should encourage managers to self-assess, challenge the results of these self-assessments, take them into account in the inspection process, and provide a comparative benchmark.
  6. Impartiality
    Inspectorates should use impartial evidence. Whether qualitative or quantitative, evidence should be validated and credible.
  7. Transparency
    Inspectorates should disclose the criteria they use to form judgements.
  8. Openness
    Inspectorates should be open about their processes, willing to take any complaints seriously, and use robust quality assurance processes.
  9. Value for money
    Inspectorates should consider value for money, their own included.
  10. Continuous improvement
    Inspectorates should continually learn from experience, to become increasingly effective. This can include assessing their own impact on the organisations they inspect, and by sharing best practice with other inspectorates.

As well as following these principles, we try to minimise the burden of inspection on the organisations we inspect. We aim to be open about our practices and procedures, and to make sure our work is free from bias and discrimination.

We welcome feedback about the way we work. If you have any to share, please contact us.