#023/2013 - HMIC and HMCPSI find that repeated efforts to improve the quality of prosecution case files have had limited success


#023/2013 – HMIC and HMCPSI find that repeated efforts to improve the quality of prosecution case files have had limited success

The case files prepared for court are vital for securing justice and must be completed to a high standard; but too often the completion of them is treated as a tick-box exercise, and files include irrelevant or incomplete information, found a joint review published today.

Getting cases to court, with the right information provided at the right time, enables the criminal justice system to function smoothly and ensures that the interests of justice are properly served. If the process is managed correctly, the inevitable paperwork associated with the passage of a case through the criminal justice system is kept to a minimum, allowing police and prosecutors to concentrate on serving the public better, rather than on remedial administrative work.

Both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service have in recent years produced guidance on how to build proportionate case files. However, a review of 180 prosecution case files by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) and HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate, (HMCPSI) found that while there have been some improvements in this respect, the reports police send to prosecutors are still frequently missing important details, or being ‘overbuilt’ with material or evidence that is not needed.

HMIC and HMCPSI consider that this reflects a considerable lack of understanding amongst frontline police officers of the importance and relevance of the information they are providing to the prosecutor. The focus tends to be on providing a prescribed set of documents and forms, with insufficient attention given to the quality and relevance of the information provided. This has consequences. For instance, it was found to be common practice for police officers to complete reports by copying and pasting information from one form to another which may lead to confidential information (such as the addresses of witnesses) being provided to defence teams by mistake.

Prosecutors are also sometimes leaving too long between receiving and reviewing the reports provided to them; this leaves little time to rectify these problems, or find missing information, and trial dates have sometimes had to be adjourned as a result.

The introduction of digital working was expected to bring benefits in terms of the timeliness and quality of case files. However while recognising the important work in this area, our findings were that incompatible and cumbersome IT systems significantly increased the time required for CPS staff to process work digitally at the present time compared to using paper forms. More work is planned to improve digital working so that the problems we identified can be addressed.

The report makes a series of recommendations aimed at improving this situation.

HM Inspector of Constabulary, Drusilla Sharpling, said:

“Good quality information secures just outcomes for defendants, victims and witnesses; but our joint review found a considerable lack of understanding among frontline officers of the importance and relevance of these records.

“Better supervision, training and quality assurance of case files will all help to address these issues, and ensure that court processes are not delayed or impeded by poor quality or irrelevant information.”

Chief Inspector of HM Crown Prosecution Service, Michael Fuller, said:

The quality and presentation of police evidence to the CPS clearly needs significant improvement if prosecutors are to be given the best chance of success.”


Notes to editors

  1. The full report can be found at www.hmic.gov.uk
  2. A joint value for money review on the implementation of DGSP was carried out by the National Audit Office (NAO), HMIC and HMCPSI in May 2011. This report concluded that: there was an inconsistent approach by individual police forces producing variable quality case files; and overbuilding was a significant issue that resulted in police officers wasting time providing unnecessary material to CPS. More recently, HMIC and HMCPSI, as part of Stop the Drift 2: A Continuing Focus on 21st Century Criminal Justice, which examined a sample of case files in anticipated guilty pleas for cases in the magistrates’ courts and found little evidence of any improvement.
  3. The review was carried out in April 2013. It was a joint assessment of 180 case files taken from 6 police forces and the corresponding CPS Areas across England and Wales. The forces selected were: Metropolitan Police Service, Greater Manchester Police, North Wales Police, Sussex Police, Leicestershire Police and Wiltshire Police.
  4. In addition to the examination of the case files, interviews were conducted with a range of CPS and police practitioners and managers with a view to ascertaining local issues, methods of supervision and case file ownership and any arrangements for joint performance management and governance of the case file building process.
  5. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing in the public interest, and rigorously examines the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces to tackle crime and terrorism, improve criminal justice and raise confidence. HMIC inspects all 43 police forces in England and Wales together with other major policing bodies.
  6. Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) is the independent inspectorate for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Its purpose is to enhance the quality of justice through independent inspection and assessment of prosecution services, and in so doing improve their effectiveness and efficiency. HMCPSI’s Chief Inspector reports directly to the Attorney General.
  7. For further information, HMIC’s press office can be contacted during office hours from 8:30am – 5:30pm Monday – Friday on 0203 513 0600. Please note, it is unlikely interviews will be available. HMCPSI media enquiries: 020 7271 2484 / 2465 / 2440.
  8. HMIC’s out-of-hours press office line for urgent media enquiries is 07836 217 729.