(POP0101)

Written evidence submitted by the Crown Prosecution Service (POP0101)

 

1.Thank you for your letter of the 9 May 2023. I was grateful for the opportunity to appear before the Committee, alongside Baljit Ubhey, to provide the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) views on policing priorities as we transition into this new post-pandemic period for the criminal justice system.

2.As I set out during the session, the joint working relationship between police and CPS is strong. It can be stronger still when police forces invest in their own specialist investigation teams, so prosecutors can focus on making timely decisions based on high quality investigations. Early engagement and effective communication between prosecutors and local forces should also be priorities for policing. We fully understand the pressures on the frontline, but getting this right, saves time and drives efficiencies right through the system which is crucial now as we tackle the backlog of cases in the Crown Courts.

3. Increased investment in both the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing would benefit police forces nationally through increased training opportunities for newer officers and greater support to deliver organisational change on critical issues like charging and violence against women and girls. While I appreciate the NPCC’s challenge in coordinating 43 individual police forces, national transformation, such as implementation of the new charging model, can only be achieved through local compliance.

4. Finally, we fully support the approach outlined by Zoe Byrne at the session on 1 February: victims are central to our cases and our ability to deliver justice. We would welcome the prioritisation of support for victims.

5. In response to the issues raised in your letter, I have set out at annex A how the CPS is working to reduce victim and witness attrition across the CPS, alongside additional information on the Director’s Guidance on Charging, police file quality, inconsistencies in local relationships and CJS resources. I hope this additional evidence is of assistance. Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions.

 

June 2023

 

Annex A

 

Victim and witness attrition

 

Being a victim of crime can be deeply traumatic, and we recognise that for those who find themselves in the criminal justice system, it can be incredibly challenging. Our most recent data shows that the percentage of cases that are stopped after a charge because the victim no longer supports a prosecution has fallen in the last five years from 21% in Q4 2017 to 15% in Q4 2022. [1]Tackling victim attrition requires a whole criminal justice system response, with court backlogs a significant factor in attrition.

The CPS is committed to transforming the service we provide to every victim to ensure they feel prepared and able to stay engaged with the criminal justice process. Our Victim Transformation Programme will improve victims’ experiences by building their understanding of the process and their entitlements, enable them to access the support they need and provide them with timely updates throughout their criminal justice journeys.

We have already launched new online guides for victims, ensuring they have access to information about what to expect. This includes an online guide for victims of rape and serious sexual offences which has been viewed over 250,000 times since November 2021.

Since October 2022, new and innovative communication activities are being tested in over half of all CPS Areas to improve how we communicate with adult rape victims, including new, informative pre-charge letters to introduce the prosecutor and explain victims’ rights and familiarisation meetings at various points during the life of a case to enable victims to meet the prosecution team and have their questions answered. We will take learning from these tests to inform the development of our new service for victims. By improving how we communicate with victims we hope to both improve the experiences of victims and reduce attrition.

Director’s Guidance on charging

In relation to the updated Director’s Guidance, these changes reflect the important amendments introduced by the revised Codes of Practice under the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 (CPIA) and the Attorney-General’s Guidelines, in 2020 and 2022. The Attorney General’s Review on Disclosure (2018) recognised the impact that unused material can have on the decision to charge and found that prosecutors were often not aware of relevant material, or what reasonable lines of enquiry had been followed, until too late in the criminal justice process which was bringing about late disclosure or in some instances, resulting in cases being stopped.

The Director’s Guidance was introduced following consultation with all Police Forces via the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC). It represents a significant shift in the handling of unused material and promotes investigators and prosecutors adopting a proactive approach to disclosure, ensuring disclosure is considered at the outset of a case. The “front loading” of disclosure has increased the amount of work that investigators and prosecutors undertake pre-charge, however, this work was always required under CPIA, ensures that cases are trial and guilty plea ready when entering the courts, and should be seen against the potential impact on victims of a prosecution failing at trial because of a disclosure issue being identified at a late stage.

The police and CPS have a legal obligation to ensure the handling of personal data and sensitive personal data is in accordance with the Data Protection Act 2018. The CPS has worked with NPCC colleagues to update the Joint National Redaction Principles and to introduce a pragmatic approach, reflecting the Attorney General’s Guidelines (2022), to the need to redact (sensitive) personal data which it is not (strictly) necessary to process.

The CPS is working with the Home Office and the Attorney General’s Office to understand the current position on redaction and explore options in the light of that. This means understanding whether there is a “burden” caused by redaction, given that on any view the police have to review a file and ensure its contents is appropriate (in DPA but other respects too) before submitting it to the CPS, and that must surely include protecting the interests of victims, witnesses and other third parties’ personal data. It means understanding, if there is a “burden” (rather than a resource implication), why that is so, including the ways in which better use of technology might ease it and embedding the current guidance. It is very clear that better application of the guidance would improve the situation.

When looking at alternative solutions we are clear, first, that we must comply with the law and cannot agree to an approach which is not DPA-compliant, second, that any change (including legislation) must work for the criminal justice system as a whole, and not impact on case readiness when a case is going to court. Easing the “burden” of redaction on the police at the pre-charge stage must be balanced against the need for the file to be ready for court so that trial dates and guilty pleas can be set down promptly.

The disparity in digital capabilities between 43 local forces together with different local policing priorities are challenging factors when considering compliance and ensuring consistency of approach nationally. We will continue to support the NPCC and local forces, building strong, robust cases that deliver justice for all and protect the personal information of victims, witnesses, and defendants.

Police file quality

A key dataset to monitor police file quality is provided by the CPS’s Director’s Guidance Assessment (DGA) and is undertaken each month. This dataset is jointly agreed with policing and breaks performance down by individual police force. DGA provides a qualitative assessment of file quality and a quantitative picture of the number of assessments the CPS has undertaken.

Currently, the number of cases assessed by CPS remains relatively static around the 68% mark, with overall (national) police compliance sitting at 60% as of February 2023. The latter figure comprises wide variation between individual forces. Since publication of DGA guidance the national police compliance ranges from 30.1% to 84.4%. Improvement is clearly required by those police forces who routinely perform towards the lower end of this spectrum.

Performance outturns are collated monthly through a DGA dashboard, which is discussed at a national level at the Joint Case Progression Working Group (JCPWG), a group jointly led by a CPS and NPCC lead. Similarly, joint local DGA discussions take place at the monthly Joint Operational Improvement Meetings (JOIMs) between CPS local Areas and their aligned Police Forces.

Inconsistency in local CPS and policing relationships

JOIM meetings and a jointly agreed Police/CPS case progression toolkit replaced Prosecution Team Performance Meetings (PTPM) in January 2022 to improve relationships, support problem-solving and case progression. This includes an express desire to improve file quality.

In November 2022, the JCPWG commissioned a joint Police/CPS review of the JOIMs and the toolkit, to consider whether it is working, to identify best practice and make recommendations where required, all to enable positive improvements to both relationships and performance.

The JOIM review is looking at the JOIM structure to ensure it supports both the police and CPS to deliver the work, focussing on performance and improvement in a specific part of the casefile journey (once a case has been submitted to the CPS for a charging decision), so the review will naturally only cover activities within this part of the process, such as DGA compliance, which has its first line of governance through the local JOIM.

The research and analysis completed so far, through a survey and face-to-face roundtable discussions with all Police and CPS JOIM chairs provides early indications that there are good collaborative working relationships between the Police and the CPS. Based on the research and feedback gathered, an initial report on findings and recommendations will be provided to the Joint Case Progression Working Group in July 2023.

CJS resources

You mention the recent announcement from the Government on the achievement of the target recruitment for the Police Uplift Programme. I would like to take this opportunity to welcome this positive development for the criminal justice system in England and Wales and reiterate my support for investment across the system to enable us, collectively, to deliver prompt and effective justice.

Your letter raised concerns you have been hearing about a resource imbalance in the system being created by this investment. As you will know, our organisation continues to deliver under the funding settlement agreed at Spending Review 2021. At this time, we achieved a strong settlement which enabled us to make progress against our priorities, including meeting incoming demand brought about by the Police Uplift Programme.

In addition, since the time of Spending Review 2021, HM Treasury also agreed to provide us with additional funding to enable us to increase the fees we pay external counsel to maintain parity with defence fees.

These are welcome developments, ensuring we can retain the important balance within the system. The situation in which we are working, however, remains extremely challenging, not least due to the continuing high caseload levels, and the increased costs of operating since the time of the Spending Review 2021.

Your letter also raised a specific concern about a lack of personnel having a negative impact on the ability of the system to deliver prompt and effective justice.

Our Spending Review 2021 settlement has enabled us to develop a three-year Strategic Workforce Plan to support the delivery of our priorities, ensuring our workforce grows through a careful combination of external recruitment and internal development. We’ve made significant progress in this as we welcomed 1,083 external starters in 2022-23 – a record number which contributed to workforce growth of over 8%. A further 300 new starters are forecast to join us in quarter 1 of 23/24 with more recruitment activity scheduled throughout this year.

We’ve also launched our new Crown Prosecutor Development Pathway to develop talent inhouse, reducing reliance on the challenging external legal recruitment market and the impact this has on other parts of the Criminal Justice System. This has helped us increase the proportion of Senior Crown Prosecutor vacancies filled internally, with 60% supplied from our existing workforce in 22/23 and a further increase expected this year.

The investment to help us retain the balance between prosecution fees and defence fees has improved our ability to access external counsel. Our CPS Advocate Panel – our quality assured list of external prosecution advocates – continues to increase and currently sits just below pre-pandemic levels.

Whilst this is welcome news, with the system stretched due to the backlog, we continue to face challenges around ensuring cases are covered by advocates with the right skill and experience. We are working closely with the Bar and individual chambers to address this and mitigate the impact. In addition, although Panel membership has increased overall, this has not been replicated on our specialist RASSO Panel, where numbers have dropped significantly over recent years. The CPS is working with the Bar to recruit RASSO Panel members and we are also looking to extend the support offered to existing RASSO Panel members.

The recent investment across the criminal justice system is welcome. Though the impact of this investment is limited by extremely challenging environment in which we continue to work, in terms of both operational delivery and the legal recruitment market. Cross-system approaches to tackle these shared challenges should continue to be a focus of all stakeholders within the criminal justice system


[1] Police referral to prosecution by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) - CJS Dashboard (justice.gov.uk)