Area Assurance Inspection: CPS East of England

HMCPSI’s Area Assurance Programme report into CPS East of England.

Please note that this summary was updated on Wednesday 25 October 2017.

Inspectors examined the Area across four criteria: high quality casework, continuously improving, the success of CPS people, and public confidence. The overall assessment for each of the four criteria was “good”.

This report looking at the effectiveness of CPS East of England is the latest in the series of ongoing Area Assurance Programme inspections. It evaluates leadership, commitment to values within the CPS, management of resources, quality of casework, community engagement and communication with victims and witnesses.

East of England experienced a drop in performance in 2015-16 after a period of considerable operational change, including the introduction of new initiatives across the criminal justice system and new digital case management systems in some of the police forces the Area serves. Staff engagement as measured in the Civil Service People Survey (CS survey) improved considerably last year, but is not yet at the same level as the CPS nationally. Leadership is good, and the Area’s managers model and promote CPS values, and recognise good performance. Despite this, morale is low in places. The 2016 CS survey score for Leadership and Managing Change increased by 9% to 38% in 2016-17, but this is still 5% lower than the national CPS average and Area managers acknowledge that it needs to improve further.

Inspectors applauded a number of improvements in East of England:

  • a concerted push to tackle rape and serious sexual offences (RASSO) has seen Crown Court conviction rates in the Area increase from 55.2% in 2015-16 to 62.3% in 2016-17. Successful RASSO outcomes have, as a result, improved overall from 80.1% to 82.6% to take the Area from below average to one of the top performers nationally
  • the Area has positive and productive working relationships with its partners, and these have driven improvements. Successful outcomes in the magistrates’ court and Crown Court are higher than the national average. The proportion of cases where the defendant pleads guilty at the first hearing in the magistrates’ courts – 74.2% – is better than the CPS level of ambition and makes the Area one of the best performers nationally
  • the Area has established problem solving hubs which involve staff pooling knowledge and experience to produce workable solutions
  • the Area has a real commitment to the communities it serves, particularly those at greatest risk of exclusion, and has creatively used external resources from a law firm and local university to support local engagement panels
  • the Area generally provides a good service to victims and witnesses. Data shows that there have been substantial improvements in performance in relation to the timeliness of letters to victims and witnesses
  • the Area has operated within its budget for the first time in three years.

The Area was, however, let down by continuing weakness in police file quality; although managers have worked closely with the police to try to improve the quality of files, they require more feedback from prosecutors when police files are not meeting the required standards. The Area has more to do to ensure prosecutors realise the impact of failure to identify flaws. The timeliness and quality of reviews, and case progression after the first hearing, should be better than they are, and cases need to be better managed. The proportion of trials that do not proceed on the day for prosecution reasons is worse than the national average in both magistrates’ courts and the Crown Court. Delays in uploading hearing record sheets or the quality of the information contained in them impacts on case progression and the service provided to criminal justice partners, victims and witnesses.

Inspectors acknowledged that attempts to drive improvements have been hindered by difficulties in recruiting prosecutors which mean workloads are high in some parts of the Area, with many people working additional hours, some of it as paid overtime, to deliver their objectives.

The Area has offices at Chelmsford, Ipswich and Norwich, and has some staff deployed in Cambridge and Peterborough Crown Court centres. It is aligned with Essex Police and Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk Constabularies. It covers 11 magistrates’ courts and seven Crown Court centres, two of which also sit at other sites. In 2016-17 its budget was £19,993,556.

Inspectors examined 120 magistrates’ courts and Crown Court files finalised between February and April 2017. The fieldwork took place in late July and early August 2017 and involved conversations with members of the judiciary, representatives of partner agencies, and CPS staff. Court observations were undertaken to assess the effectiveness of case progression.

CPS East of England Area Assurance Inspection report (246 kB)