Area Assurance Inspection: CPS Thames and Chiltern

HMCPSI’s Area Assurance Programme report into CPS Thames and Chiltern.

Please note that this report was originally published with the tables on pages 70-73 accidentally omitted.

CPS Thames and Chiltern has offices in Reading and St Albans, plus a small team of administrators based in Liverpool. It is aligned with Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Thames Valley police forces. The Area covers 11 magistrates’ courts and six Crown Court centres. This includes Cambridge Crown Court which, while outside the geographical area of Thames and Chiltern, receives a significant amount of its work from north Hertfordshire.

In the 12 months to March 2017 it had the full-time equivalent of 237 staff and the budget for 2016-17 was £21,290,144.

The overall results for Thames and Chiltern were disappointing. Although scoring well in its commitment to CPS values and staff engagement, it lagged behind other CPS Areas in key respects, with case preparation and progression deemed only fair, while public confidence and communication with victims were found to be poor.

The Area was experiencing significant resourcing issues with recruiting and retaining staff. The 5% improvement in staff engagement on the previous year was impressive given that staff turnover was double the national average, at 14.5%. There was no ‘one Area’ ethos or Area identity, with a clear divide between the Reading and St Albans offices, which does not encourage team working.

With regard to casework, the Area needs to improve a number of aspects of its performance. Any progress is being held back by a lack of a strategic analysis of performance results and limited benchmarking against other Areas, which could possibly identify better ways of working. Although there are mechanisms in place to conduct assurance checks, there is little evidence that use is made of any resulting data.

There is a high contested caseload; on average 36.4% of cases dealt with by prosecutors in the magistrates’ court are contested, compared to 26.2% nationally.

The Area does not appear to have fully embraced digital working in the Crown Court, which has the result of increasing workloads. Nor does it properly adhere to the Standard Operating Practices for Better Case Management or the Digital Case System, to its detriment.

The quality of files submitted by the police is not of a high enough standard, with a lack of corresponding challenge by prosecutors or management. The Area must ensure that cases are subject to a robust and timely initial review and must work with the police to raise standards.

There was a failure to identify and discontinue cases with no prospect of a conviction. Late reviews were taking place at an unacceptably high level, leading to cases being discontinued at a very late stage in proceedings. In magistrates’ courts cases preparation showed an unacceptably poor performance. The police did not always comply with their disclosure duties, with poor descriptions in relevant schedules.

The trial effectiveness rate was good at 55.8%, which is higher than the national average of 50.7%. Thames and Chiltern also out-performs the national average for cracked and ineffective trials.

The service to victims and witnesses is central to the work of the Area and this was particularly poor. Letters are not always sent to victims when required, or are sent late. There was also a problem with Victim Personal Statements, with more than a quarter of police files not complying with the required standards as they did not contain one. The Area does not have a focused approach to its community engagement and has not demonstrated how it links to improved outcomes. Consideration needs to be given to the allocation of resources to manage this vital work.

Inspectors examined 120 magistrates’ court and Crown Court files finalised between November 2016 and January 2017. Fieldwork included conversations with members of the judiciary, partner agencies and CPS staff. Court observations were also undertaken.

CPS Thames and Chiltern Area Assurance Inspection report (230 kB)