Handling Defence Correspondence (August 2019)

Inspectors from HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) looked into the management of defence correspondence by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

Effective correspondence has a real impact on the CPS reputation. In the past it has been suggested that the CPS does not deal with correspondence effectively.

The inspection team examined a total of 200 files and looked at 500 pieces of individual defence correspondence.

CPS Areas receive correspondence from a number of criminal justice agencies as well as from defence practitioners which are usually sent via a secure email. Inspectors found that the CPS generally dealt with defence correspondence effectively. However, there appeared to be discrepancies between different CPS Areas. Inspectors recommended that Area Business Managers in all CPS Areas should ensure that staff are clear on timescales for dealing with and responding to a request. They also recommended that the CPS develop revised national guidance in order to set out the types of defence correspondence that paralegal staff can deal with.

To manage incoming correspondence, CPS Areas have a number of centralised, secure email inboxes. However not all Areas take the same approach to the number and structure used. One of the issues identified by staff was that defence solicitors were sending the same email to multiple mailboxes, adding to the volume of receipts. Some Areas have raised awareness with defence firms to label correspondence with sufficient detail, which will allow them to upload to CMS more effectively. However inspectors did identify issues with the CMS system, and have suggested that it is not user friendly and makes it difficult to understand whether matters have been dealt with. Filtering and identifying only defence correspondence is virtually impossible. Inspectors have noted that the CPS are currently investing in the system to modernise and improve it.

Inspectors also identified a lack of clarity in Areas as to the timescales for dealing with correspondence. Whilst some Areas believed that they had 48 hours to move correspondence to CMS, in other Areas staff believed that they had 24 hours. Inspectors recommended that the position should be clarified nationally, to ensure that all Areas were following the same principles.

Although the inspection team found that the CPS generally dealt with defence correspondence effectively, there still appears to be a narrative which suggests that the CPS is slow at dealing with defence correspondence. Inspectors have highlighted that this could be due to the lack of meaningful engagement with the defence. However it has been recognised that this is a challenging task due to the number of defence firms, and the lack of centralised representation.

The key recommendations from the report were:

  • To ensure Area Business Managers in all CPS Areas were clear on timescales in terms of responding to correspondence.
  • For CPS Headquarters to develop a revised national guidance to set out the types of defence correspondence paralegal staff can deal with
  • To find a suitable solution in working with the defence community – developing a national strategy would greatly benefit both sides.

To carry out the inspection inspectors visited four CPS Areas – East Midlands, North East, West Midlands and Yorkshire and Humberside. As well as looking at the documents, inspectors also surveyed defence practitioners within the CPS Areas. The inspection team also spoke to a number of local staff, and senior managers.

Report: Handling defence correspondence (August 2019) (816 kB)

Press Notice: Handling Defence Correspondence (August 2019)