Area Assurance Inspection: CPS West Midlands

HMCPSI’s Area Assurance Programme report into CPS West Midlands.

CPS West Midlands has offices at Birmingham and Stoke and is aligned with Staffordshire, Warwickshire, West Mercia and West Midlands police forces. The Area also deals with all British Transport Police (BTP) casework which is centralised in West Midlands, although the BTP was excluded from this report. The Area covers 13 magistrates’ courts and nine Crown Court centres. Its budget for 2016-17 was £36,612,835.

A ‘people first’ ethos championed by the Chief Crown Prosecutor and supported by her team has helped drive improvements in the Area. With the majority of scores registered as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ there is much to applaud. However, inspectors identified a number of issues where further work was required.

A root and branch change of management approach has had encouraging results which saw:

  • improvements against almost every measure in their latest staff survey results
  • its culture and vision regularly disseminated through the workforce
  • managers having an excellent working relationship with criminal justice partners
  • the Area developing a contribution to the Victims and Witnesses Committee that is inclusive, effective and solution-focused.

West Midlands has initiated a Hate Crime Service Level Agreement with all the police forces in the Area, which has seen the creation of community engagement managers and hate crime champions who work across the Area to share best practice. Improved training and guest speakers have all raised awareness about hate crime and there is a checklist for case management. The result has been an increase in conviction rates with greater consideration for extended sentences. The initiative and other examples of senior managers’ work with criminal justice partners have been judged as ‘strengths’ by inspectors.

The Area has consistently improved performance in many respects over the past three years. The quality of data the CPS provides and shares in joint arrangements with criminal justice partners has resulted in early guilty pleas in 46.9% of Crown Court cases, 7.0% above the national average. Cracked and ineffective trials due to prosecution reasons have been reduced in the Crown Court. The Area has also reduced hearings per case in both contested and guilty plea cases in the magistrates’ court and is performing well above the national average. Conviction rates in the magistrates’ courts have improved year on year since 2014-15.

The Area has made significant investment in legal training, which has directly improved casework outcomes and enabled better decision-making. It has also worked with all police forces to deliver joint training on disclosure, involving imaginative use of technology such as webinars.

An effective performance management regime has led to an increase in conviction rates in a number of areas. There are good mechanisms to check data integrity, including regular and robust consideration of cracked and ineffective trials.

The Area overspent its budget for the past three years, however the overspend in 2016-17 was down from 3.9% to less than 0.5%. Like other metropolitan CPS Areas it has struggled to recruit legal staff and has now invested extensively in raising its profile and worked with the local Bar to look at short term secondments.

From a largely positive review, inspectors felt that nonetheless:

  • there was a lack of value for money awareness among some operational staff due to pre-existing restrictions on financial delegation. Agent spend in the magistrates’ court was high and in a number of sessions resources were not used efficiently
  • casework remains a challenge for the Area. Issues highlighted by inspectors were the quality and timeliness of initial reviews, as well as effective ‘grip’ on contested cases. Court orders were not always fully adhered to and some task lists on the case management system were not managed effectively
  • resourcing issues in the unit responsible for communications with victims when cases are stopped resulted in a dip in performance of the timeliness of letters. Senior managers need to ensure improvements in the quality of communications.

Inspectors examined 150 magistrates’ courts and Crown Court files finalised between January and March 2017. Fieldwork included conversations with members of the judiciary, partner agencies and CPS staff. Court observations were also undertaken.

CPS West Midlands Area Assurance Inspection report (235 kB)