Business as usual? Transforming Summary Justice follow-up report

HMCPSI inspectors have carried out a follow-up inspection of the effectiveness of the CPS’s contribution to the Transforming Summary Justice (TSJ) initiative.

TSJ is a cross-agency criminal justice scheme that aims to reform the way in which criminal casework is dealt with in the magistrates’ courts by reducing delays and having fewer hearings and more effective trials, so improving the service to victims and witnesses. It was launched in June 2015 and HMCPSI first reported on its progress in February 2016.

Inspectors found a lack of clarity about the high level strategic arrangements in place. The CPS should try to influence its criminal justice partners to refine and improve governance.

At a local level, there is a shared desire to make the initiative work, which has resulted in improved working relationships between the agencies involved.

The clearest improvement in performance was shown in the time taken from first hearing to completion of the case. The average number of days for all cases dropped by 9.4 days, and by 17.9 days for contested cases (where a defendant pleads not guilty). If improvements delivered in 2016 had not been made and hearings per case had remained unchanged from 2015, there would have been almost 39,000 additional hearings. Other performance measures showed more mixed results: while nationally there was an increase in successful trial outcomes, it was disappointing that the numbers of effective trials had dropped.

In preparing for the first hearing, the CPS’s ability to manage and progress cases effectively is still hampered by the quality of the police file, often due to such factors as lack of a Victim Personal Statement or a failure to comply with disclosure obligations. The CPS needs to ensure that the quality of police files is assessed and monitored by its staff, and that their feedback drives improvement.

There is still no reliable method for sharing digitally hard copy media such as CCTV evidence, body-worn video footage, 999 tapes and video interviews, despite recommendations in the Delivering justice in a digital age HMCPSI/HMIC joint report (published April 2016).

The defendant’s failure to attend was the biggest single reason why first hearings were ineffective and can be put down to a number of possible causes. Some Areas are working with the police on ways in which the prosecution can proceed where a defendant fails to attend the first hearing.

There has been a significant increase in the quality of the CPS initial review since the last report, although there is still room for improvement.

CPS disclosure was still hampered by the standard of police compliance. A dedicated inspection report on this subject will be published later this year.

There is no national mandate on how domestic abuse, youth and custody cases fit into the TSJ model and, although instructions were issued in September 2015, differing practices have developed. The position should be clarified and guidelines provided.

Mixed results on serving papers were found. There are still occasions when prosecutors are not sending Initial Details of the Prosecution Case to defence representatives quickly enough. Although the CPS has moved to serve all papers digitally in bail cases there are delays in court, for example if a defendant is unrepresented and has no secure email address to receive papers, or when a duty solicitor needs time to receive the papers and then consult with their client.

Overall there is suitable training in delivering TSJ for CPS staff, although managers must make sure they keep teams up to date. Some local Areas are developing tools such as desktop instructions, which is good practice.

For courts to run efficiently, the right number of cases have to be put in the right court. This is still not happening systematically at first hearing. A great deal still needs to be done to improve the way the criminal justice agencies work to achieve this. The right personnel need to be at the hearing – some prosecutors have indicated to the court that they are unable or unwilling to make decisions on cases without further instructions, causing delays to cases. Prosecutors must be sufficiently qualified or confident to do this.

Good working relationships were observed between the court, defence and prosecution in almost all cases, improving the effectiveness of case progression at first hearing. Inspectors found that case management was enhanced when a robust approach was taken.

There was a lack of consistency in processing the Preparation for Effective Trial (PET) forms which leads to delays. In one Area two completely different processes were in place. The CPS should ensure that they take a consistent approach.

There is a lack of consistency in how prosecutors access police support during court hearings for not guilty anticipated plea hearings. All advocates should know how to access support if they need it.

There has been an improvement in the availability of secure court Wi-Fi. Out of 48 court sessions, Wi-Fi worked reliably in 96%. This has enabled better use of the CPS Prosecutor App which allows prosecutors to update files electronically immediately.

There are a number of reasons why cases need to be reviewed after the first hearing in the magistrates’ courts, including the police providing additional evidence or documentation, defence representations and intervening events involving witnesses or victims. The CPS case management system alerts prosecutors when a review is needed, but many prosecutors admitted that cases were often looked at at the last minute. There was considerable frustration from the judiciary and defence at the lateness or lack of review after the first hearing by the CPS. If the aims of TSJ are to be achieved, the CPS should have an effective process for reviewing cases so tasks can be dealt with promptly.

The inspection team assessed 420 files, and observed 48 half day court sessions during which 431 cases were handled. They visited five CPS Areas (South East, London, Mersey-Cheshire, Cymru-Wales and East of England) and interviewed representatives of the CPS, police, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS), Probation, the judiciary and the defence community.

Business as usual? Transforming Summary Justice follow-up report (304 kB)