Memorandum submitted by the National Audit
COMPTROLLER & AUDITOR
This paper outlines the main conclusions of
the Comptroller & Auditor General's Report on the Crown Prosecution
Service (CPS) delivered in 2006, with a report from the Committee
of Public Accounts in the same year. It should be noted that these
reports date back to 2006 and that the Service has put considerable
effort into addressing the recommendations of the reports. Progress
was most recently reported in the Autumn Performance Report.
The NAO has not revisited the CPS since 2006 but may do in
The role of the Comptroller & Auditor General
with reference to the CPS is as external auditor: the C&AG
certifies the financial accounts of the CPS annually. He also
has a responsibility to report to parliament on the economy, efficiency
and effectiveness of the CPS under the National Audit Act, 1983;
as, when and in what way he reports is within his discretion.
The report concentrated on the work of the CPS in relation to
Magistrates' Courts because this constituted the majority of CPS
The Comptroller & Auditor General's remit
is to report to Parliament on value for money; this differs from
the Chief Inspector's role which is to enhance the quality of
justice through independent inspection and assessment of prosecution
services, and in so doing improve their effectiveness and efficiency.
There is crossover obviously and NAO and HMCPSI colleagues consult
and discuss matter of mutual interest on a regular basis.
The NAO report in 2006 considered the Crown
Prosecution Service's role in the effective use of magistrates'
hearings, specifically whether the Service plans and prepares
cases to make effective use of hearings; uses court time for the
purposes of the hearings listed; and is taking action to improve
its performance in magistrates' courts.
The report found that:
An estimated 28% of all pre-trial hearings
(784,000 annually) were ineffective. The defence was responsible
for just over 478,000 of these, often where the defendant
failed to attend, and the prosecution (that is the Crown Prosecution
Service or the police or both) for about 165,000, of which we
estimated that about 71,000 could be attributed to the Crown
Published statistics showed that 62%
of magistrates' courts trials were ineffective or ''cracked''
in 2004-05. Similarly, the defence was responsible for the majority
of failed trials and nearly 17% (19,500) were attributable to
the Crown Prosecution Service.
The NAO calculated that ineffective hearings
and cracked and ineffective trials cost the taxpayer £173 million
each year, of which just under £24 million was attributable
to the Crown Prosecution Service, caused by process errors or
Individual prosecutors deal with a large volume
of cases, often at very short notice. Nevertheless, the NAO report
found that problems with the Crown Prosecution Service's planning
and preparation for magistrates' courts hearings contributed to
ineffective hearings. There was insufficient oversight of cases
and a lack of clear ownership of cases. CPS lawyers needed to
be clear who owns a case, who is taking it through the system,
to try and cut down the amount of switches of cases that happen
all the way through the system, so that they make good decisions
early on about what the charges should be and what evidence needs
to be gathered by police.
CPS lawyers often did not have enough time to
prepare for hearings and Her Majesty's Courts' Service staff moved
cases between courtrooms, so that prosecuting lawyers had to present
cases they had not prepared. This practice in particular needs
to be minimised as it raises the risk of an ineffective outcome.
We also found that there could be more effective
systems for prioritising and progressing urgent or high-risk cases,
particularly those involving children or sexual offences to minimise
the trauma already experienced by victims. This meant that the
CPS needed a case management system which would allow the identification
of these cases and enough resources to be able to allocate them
to an experienced lawyer within a reasonable timescale.
The report also noted an issue with general
bureaucracy. Administrative errors by the CPS could result in
prosecutions collapsing unnecessarily, at a cost to the public
purse. Poor record keeping and slow response times to messages
were particular issues. The CPS were not using technology well
at the time, including simple technology like voicemail.
The police and the courts contributed further
to the inefficiencies that resulted in prosecution delays: often
the police did not provide the evidence in time for the hearing;
the police constituted the main stakeholder for the CPS and good
liaison with the police was vital to making sure that the necessary
evidence is there and collected, available for review and available
for trial. A proportion of the cases in the NAO sample could not
proceed at trial because the right evidence was not there on the
day. The quality of the relationship between the CPS and the police
was crucial and relied on the personalities in particular areas
in order to work well. An end to end target owned jointly by police
and CPS for getting cases to trial could act as a spur to better
Nationally, the Crown Prosecution Service was
seeking to improve its performance through initiatives such as
No Witness, No Justice, which aimed to support prosecution witnesses
through the courts process, and the Charging Initiative which
passed responsibility for determining charges from the police
to the Crown Prosecution Service. Also, it is playing a key part
in Local Criminal Justice Boards to promote joint working with
the other criminal justice agencies.
We found good examples of local action by Crown
Prosecution Service offices to improve performance at magistrates'
court hearings. The Cardiff unit, which was visited by the NAO,
was found to be working well. People were co-located, they were
working well together and it provided a model for a new way doing
business that the CPS needs for Magistrates' Court's case management.
They were intending to roll out this model across the country.
However, generally, the Crown Prosecution Service needed to do
more to re-organise and modernise its management of magistrates'
CPS' response to the PAC report
The PAC report on the "Effective Use of
Magistrates' Courts Hearings" was published in October 2006.
The Service made specific promises of action in their Treasury
Minute response to the PAC report and the main ones are set out
below. An up to date position statement from the CPS is included
in their Autumn Performance report of 2008 and is summarised
below. The PAC report made 17 recommendations to the CPS
covering case management, the use of technology to improve processes
and working with other criminal justice agencies. One recommendation
was directed to the Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA)
(now the Ministry of Justice) and six recommendations encouraged
closer joint working with other agencies. Below is detailed the
progress against the 17 recommendations made in the report.
PAC CONCLUSIONS (I)
PAC conclusion (i): Develop and implement nationally
the good local practice operating in Cardiff, so that small teams
of lawyers and administrative staff are responsible for progressing
all cases from a specific police command unit.
PAC conclusion (ii): Nominate a member of each
team to be available during working hours to respond to queries
on the team's caseload.
PAC conclusion (iii): Introduce and develop
a time recording system to identify whether the CPS has the right
mix of legal, caseworker and administrative staff, and to effectively
manage its resources.
PAC conclusion (iv): Make full use of the CPS's
electronic case management system (COMPASS) capabilities by requiring
all CPS staff to update the system when moving files.
Progress on (i)(iv):
A new business model for the magistrates' courts
has been developed drawing on the good practice outlined in the
NAO report. The new business model has been implemented in all
areas. A key feature is the implementation of Proactive Case Progression
Teams (PCPTs) which ensures that staff are available to respond
to queries about their caseload. The new business model means
that more effective use is made of legal, caseworker and administrative
staff. The CPS continues to explore (through better use of management
information and time recording) how to make the best use of staff
resources in magistrates' courts. Mandatory recording of file
location was introduced across the CPS in April 2008.
PAC CONCLUSION (V)
PAC conclusion (v): Work with Her Majesty's
Court Service (HMCS) to establish 24 hour courts as "one
stop shops" in city areas, where those arrested for minor
offences could be dealt with immediately.
Progress on (v):
Earlier pilots of 24 hour courts concluded
that they did not provide value for money and the criminal justice
system has not pursued the idea further since then. The criminal
justice system is exploring the use of virtual courts which provide
video links between courts and police stations. A pilot of the
virtual court is planned for London and further pilots will begin
PAC CONCLUSION (VI)
PAC conclusion (vi): The DCA should follow their
endorsement of the effectiveness of District Judges, consult further
with the Head of the Judiciary, on the case for a significant
increase in their number, particularly in city areas, in order
to speed up the delivery of summary justice.
HMCS Progress on (vi):
The Ministry of Justice believes the current
mix of magistrates and district judges continues to deliver the
necessary expertise to deal with the workload of the magistrates'
courts. District Judges are already concentrated in the main
metropolitan areas where the workload is greatest. The case for
creating a new district judge post continues to be based on a
business case prepared by HMCS. The Department has begun
a review of the process, with the judiciary and interested stakeholders,
to ensure that HMCS can continue to provide the service the public
expect. Between October 2006 and October 2008 a
further nine fulltime district judges were appointed to the magistrates'
courts. There are currently about 30,000 magistrates
and 141 full-time district judges (magistrates' courts).
PAC CONCLUSION (VII)
PAC conclusion (vii): Mark cases requiring medical
or CCTV evidence as high risk, and review them weekly to obtain
the necessary evidence in time for the hearing.
Progress on (vii):
The new business model has introduced a time
readiness aspect which ensures that all cases are trial ready
two weeks in advance of the magistrates' court listing date. This
means that any high risk cases, including those requiring medical
or CCTV evidence, are identified and sufficient time exists to
gather further evidence as required.
PAC CONCLUSION (VIII)
PAC conclusion (viii): Examine the reasons for
dropping cases on the day of the trial as part of its regular
review of area performance to identify ways in which its processes
might be improved.
Progress on (viii):
Information on ineffective trials which includes
cases dropped on the day of the trial is available to all 42 Areas. The
reasons for ineffective trials are discussed with the CPS's criminal
justice partners and lessons are identified to help improve performance
in future. The CPS's performance on cracked and ineffective trials
continued to improve in 2007-08.
PAC CONCLUSION (IX)
PAC conclusion (ix): Take a risk based approach
to quality assurance, focusing on cases that are more likely to
experience delays, and periodically disseminate lessons learned.
Progress on (ix):
Case Management Panels (CMPs) have been instigated
to keep the top tier of cases under review. Crown Court cases
due to last six months or more (posing greatest risk to the reputation
of the CPS) are subject to CMPs chaired by the DPP; cases due
to last eight weeks to six months are subject to CMPs led by Chief
Crown Prosecutors. CMPs keep prosecution processes, scope, timeliness
and resources of high risk cases under regular review throughout
the life of the case. In addition Casework Quality Assurance (CQA)
is a scheme through which over 25,000 files are examined
each year to ensure that quality standards are met. Furthermore,
the CPS has established closer monitoring of cases subject to
custody time limits.
PAC CONCLUSION (X)
PAC conclusion (x): Provide electronic equipment,
which allows legal staff across the CPS to record case information
at court and automatically transfer it to the COMPASS system.
Progress on (x):
Electronic links have now been established to
169 courts. The CPS continues to work with HMCS to install
electronic links between the courts and the CPS.
PAC CONCLUSION (XI)
PAC conclusion (xi): Provide CPS lawyers during
the 2006/07 financial year with technology such as pagers
to enable them to be contacted more easily when away from the
Progress on (xi):
CPS lawyers can be contacted more easily through
the provision of call-forwarding facilities, enabling calls to
be automatically forwarded from their office telephone extension
to their mobile phone. Blackberry devices are also available to
provide mobile email access and in early 2009, it is planned to
extend the mobile network access through the provision of 3G network
PAC CONCLUSION (XII)
PAC conclusion (xii): Equip each CPS office
with a DVD player on which to review evidence.
Progress on (xii):
All CPS staff have access to a DVD player on
which to review evidence.
PAC CONCLUSION (XIII)
PAC conclusion (xiii): Encourage Local Criminal
Justice Boards to seek greater availability of DVD players in
Progress on (xiii):
HMCS, as part of the videolinks upgrade programme,
has provided a total of 429 courtrooms with equipment which
include DVD players. The technology was used in the CJSSS programme
to view evidence and assisted the programme to make the great
improvements in timeliness that have been seen in adult magistrates'
courts and more recently in youth courts as well.
PAC CONCLUSION (XIV)
PAC conclusion (xiv): Take the lead in initiating
discussions with the police, the Courts Service, manufacturers,
trade associations, and other interested parties, to explore the
scope for a national CCTV standard to provide consistency across
Progress on (xiv):
This is being dealt with as part of the Home
Office's national CCTV Strategy.
PAC CONCLUSIONS (XV)
PAC conclusion (xv): Seek co-operation from
HMCS to list each CPS team's cases together so that lawyers can
present more of their own cases in court.
PAC conclusion (xvi): Pursue with HMCS the grouping
of straightforward cases in court listings, setting and monitoring
joint monthly targets for the number of court sessions covered
by designated caseworkers (now known as Associate Prosecutors/APs),
thereby releasing lawyers to manage more complex cases.
Progress on (xv) and (xvi):
The CPS and HMCS continue to work together nationally
and locally, in line with the Senior Presiding Judge's listing
guidance, to improve listing arrangements so that APs can present
more cases in the magistrates' courts and Crown Advocates can
present more cases in the Crown Court.
PAC CONCLUSION (XVII)
PAC conclusion (xvii): Set up a national protocol
with local National Health Service (NHS) trusts to improve the
timeliness of medical reports.
Progress on (xvii):
The CPS and the British Medical Association
have a draft version of the protocol and this is presently being
considered by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO).
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