Area Assurance Inspection of CPS London South (Oct 18)

Date of publication
25 October 2018
Inspection
Organisation
Crown Prosecution Service
CPS Region
London South
Inspection type
CPS Areas and Headquarters Reports

Inspectors from HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate recently concluded the Area Assurance Programme (AAP) inspection of CPS London South.

Until April 2017 CPS London was the largest CPS Area – when following a review the Area was split into CPS London North and London South. Performance outcomes in CPS London had been consistently below the CPS national average. The creation of two London Areas, London North and London South, was an attempt to improve performance and address some of the long standing issues that had existed.

There were significant challenges for the London South senior management team, as historically there has been poor staff engagement and lower than average levels of staff morale. However inspectors found that the Area has taken great strides in improving staff engagement and there had been a 10% improvement in the engagement score since the creation of the new Area (as measured in the 2017 Civil Service People Survey). London South has also become the best performing CPS Area in terms of handling staff sickness and reducing absence. Staff interviewed said that team meetings were both regular and effective.

However inspectors identified some legacy issues in London which affected CPS London South, such as the poor quality of police files. In the file sample that inspectors analysed, police incorrectly anticipated the plea in more than 30% of cases, which would then lead to cases progressing to trial without a proper case strategy or review, resulting in additional pressure being put on already tight resources. Both London Areas have agreed a File Quality Improvement Plan with the Metropolitan Police Service, however at the time of the inspection it was still too early to see how effective this has been.

Inspectors also identified the fact that London South had to improve both magistrates’ courts and Crown Court casework. During 2017-18 the proportion of cases that resulted in convictions in both courts was worse than the national average. Domestic abuse and rape outcomes are also worse than the national average. Disclosure of unused material remains a major challenge and the Area struggles to ‘grip’ cases set down for trial.

File examination showed that the prosecutor took all necessary steps to secure victim and witness engagement in the court process in over 80% of the cases examined. However improvement is needed in the timeliness of communications with victims under the Victim Communication and Liaison scheme (VCL). Although nearly three quarters of letters were timely (73.5%), this was still some way behind the national average of 80.9% and is actually worse than CPS London prior to the split. Inspectors recommended that the Area should work to improve identification of letters that should be sent to victims to ensure measurable improvement in the number and quality of letters.

The Area has been successful in the attainment of hate crime uplifts in sentencing. This has been done successfully by pressing prosecutors and advocates to formally request this, and also ensuring that the correct recording is made on the CPS case management system.

Inspectors identified the following strengths:

  • the Area had a strong working relationship with key criminal justice partners
  • it is the best performing CPS Area in terms of dealing with sickness effectively
  • the Area has worked to increase the number of cases where the appropriate hate crime uplift in sentencing is sought by the prosecutor.

The following were some of the issues highlighted as areas for improvement:

  • the Area should continue to influence the police to improve the quality of police files
  • cases need to be reviewed in accordance with the Transforming Summary Justice (TSJ) timelines, to ensure that there is effective progression at the first hearing
  • the Area must ensure that quality reviews in Crown Court cases are undertaken in a timely manner
  • letters sent to victims must be done in a timely and empathetic manner.

Inspectors examined 150 magistrates’ court and Crown Court files finalised between December 2017 and February 2018. The fieldwork took place in June 2018, where inspectors spoke with members of the judiciary, representatives of partner agencies and CPS staff, both formally and informally.

Area Assurance Inspection of CPS London South (Oct 18) (404.16 kB)