Crown Prosecution Service need to improve reputation of defence correspondence handling

The efficient and effective processing of correspondence to and from the defence can reduce delays in court, save money across the criminal justice system, and improve the service for victims and witnesses.

Unfortunately, there is a view in the criminal justice system community that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) does not manage such correspondence well. Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) has therefore conducted an inspection to test this view and this report sets out the findings.

The inspection found that, despite the CPS’ anecdotally poor reputation it generally deals with defence correspondence quickly and effectively. Staff were largely aware of what they could deal with and what needed more specialist legal knowledge or required contact with other agencies to address queries effectively In particular, HMCPSI praised CPS’ guidelines on what could be dealt with by their magistrates’ court teams, and encourage CPS to develop further guidance regarding the types of correspondence paralegal staff who deal with Crown Court cases can deal with.

However, HMCPSI did find some areas where it felt improvements could be made. Lack of meaningful engagement with the defence may increase the risk of misunderstandings, for example reports from both sides that the other is difficult to reach by phone. While recognising that there were communication issues that made effective engagement with the defence challenging, and that attempts to improve engagement have been made, both the CPS and defence community would benefit from a more structured model of engagement.

HMCPSI also identified issues with the user interface of their case management system, which CPS are already undertaking significant investment to upgrade. In particular, their defence correspondence process could be improved by making the process of recording correspondence less complex. Changes that would improve filtering capabilities for the identification of what is from the defence and which matters have been processed would be welcomed.

Commenting on the report, HM Chief Inspector Kevin McGinty, said:

“We carried out this inspection because of concerns expressed by the defence community that the CPS were poor at responding to correspondence from the defence. Effective and timely handing of correspondence that affects the progress of cases is important. Having examined a large sample of correspondence we found that 80% of defence correspondence was dealt with by the CPS in a timely and effective manner. Clearly that still means that there is more the CPS can do. Meaningful engagement with the defence is key to improving the service provided. While recognising the logistical difficulties defence solicitors and CPS face in communicating effectively, further efforts are needed if improvements are to be made.

Note to editors

  1. The full review can be found here
  2. The last time HMCPSI inspected CPS correspondence management was in 2011.