The operation of Individual Quality Assessments in the CPS

HMCPSI’s themed inspection report on the CPS’s Individual Quality Assessments scheme.

This inspection looked at whether Individual Quality Assessment (IQA) is fit for purpose, whether it is being undertaken as envisaged and whether it is driving improvements in advice, review and case progression.

IQA was introduced in late 2014. Its predecessors, Casework Quality Assurance and Casework Quality Standards Monitoring had fallen into disuse and become prey to ‘box-ticking’. IQA was designed to assess compliance by individual prosecutors with the CPS’s quality standards for casework and advocacy, and so provide a framework for Areas to improve the quality of the service they provide. After a period of testing it was fully rolled out at the beginning of 2015.

There then followed a fallow period. In 2016 the Director of Legal Services and CPS Headquarters reviewed IQA and the governance arrangements. This led to a sustained and detailed programme of work and a clear schedule of tasks that needed to be undertaken. Inspectors found that CPS Headquarters has shown a real commitment to refreshing IQAs, establishing clear governance, and providing Areas with the tools to carry out the assessments effectively. Guidance on how the scheme operates was improved and a new tool was developed to analyse the data produced, although there are improvements that could be made to the data and its availability to staff who need access to it to help improve casework.

IQAs are recorded by legal managers using an online application, “the app”, which is hosted on a dedicated IQA site. The app has been updated as issues have been reported to Headquarters, but legal managers report it is still not user-friendly in some aspects. The CPS is moving the app to a new platform and will be using feedback and this inspection report to enhance its usability.

Training was provided centrally when the scheme was introduced, but there has been little national training since. Some activities have been organised by Headquarters, such as ‘webinars’, instructional videos and workshops. However, widespread changes in management personnel have meant many legal managers have had no experience of undertaking IQAs and, as a result, there are significant knowledge gaps at all levels.

Inspectors recommended that a national training package should be developed and delivered to designated leads or trainers from each Area, who would then deliver locally to all relevant staff.

Inspectors found that recently there has been a marked improvement in the number of assessments carried out and the IQA questions have been used to design a template for lawyers’ reviews. Other Areas have adopted local solutions to issues with the data tool. One example is CPS Thames and Chiltern, which uses data extracted from the tool to make comparisons of casework quality and robustness in different parts of the Area.

While there is a clear improvement on the previous quality assurance regime, inspectors did find a lack of robustness or misunderstanding about the IQA requirements, which in turn is hampering efforts to deliver improvements. Although the scheme began nationally in 2015, it is still not embedded across the CPS and the standard of assessments and the use made of them is not consistent. Some legal managers are not clear about what is meant to be recorded under certain sections, or how to mark some of the questions.

Disclosure is the most significant casework issue facing the CPS and police at present, yet there is not a specific question in IQA. In this respect IQA is not helping as much as it could to raise standards in this important aspect of casework. The report recommends that the CPS includes a separate set of disclosure questions when developing the revised app and guidance.

Inspectors found that legal managers need to be much better at identifying work that does not meet required standards and spelling out on the assessment in what way it has fallen short. Too many assessments were lenient. This could be because managers lack confidence in giving negative feedback, or are reluctant to do so when prosecutors are very busy and working hard. Inspectors found that 12.1% of the IQAs showed an overly lenient rating, while the CPS overall judged the quality of its casework to be 14.3% better than the inspectors’ assessment.

Inspectors examined IQAs for each of the 14 geographical CPS Areas and CPS Direct, up to ten each for advice and ten each for charging and review, and case progression. The most recent assessments as possible were chosen and in total 444 were examined. Six Areas were selected for the fieldwork, which took place in November and December 2017. The methodology included analysis of CPS IQA data, focus groups of managers undertaking assessments, and interviews with senior legal managers, performance managers and CPS Headquarters staff. A survey was conducted of the staff who are subject to IQAs in Areas visited.

The operation of Individual Quality Assessments in the CPS (Mar 18) (192 kB)