The Crown Prosecution Service: Gatekeeper of the Criminal Justice System - Justice Committee Contents


Memorandum submitted by the Public and Commercial Services Union

JUSTICE COMMITTEE INQUIRY INTO THE CROWN PROSECUTION SERVICE

INTRODUCTION AND SUMMARY

  1.  The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) is the largest civil service trade union representing over 300,000 members working in most government departments, non-departmental public bodies, agencies and privatised areas.

  2.  PCS represents almost 3,000 members employed in the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). We are therefore in a unique position to submit evidence as part of this inquiry as our members are employed by the organisation and understand its strengths and provide information on where it could improve, to serve the public and the criminal justice system better.

  3.  PCS welcome the committee's inquiry as an opportunity to raise our concerns about the resourcing of the CPS and also respond to the committee's terms of reference. We would also be happy to supplement this written submission with oral evidence or further written evidence.

  4.  This submission looks at:

    — How the CPS contributes to and fits into the Criminal Justice System and whether it is providing a timely and consistent service across the country.

    — How effectively the CPS operate and serves its customers—how does it communicate with victims and witnesses.

    — Whether the different staff functions support effective case management.

    — Whether decision-making on charges or whether to prosecute are effective.

How the CPS contributes and fits into the Criminal Justice System and its service across the country

  5.  The members we represent generally enjoy good working relationship with the various Police forces, Court Service staff, Probation Service, defence solicitors and witness service. Though the role of the latter has caused uncertainty and friction in the crown court due to the nature of the duties, which have traditionally be undertaken by crown court caseworkers.

  6.  Relationships can be strained, which we believe are avoidable, in workplaces where CPS and Police staff are co-located. Situations where this arises include Witness Care Units (WCUs), Integrated Prosecution Teams (IPT) and other locations both in Police and CPS estate premises.

  7.  PCS believe the strain is primarily due to under-resourcing of both the Police and CPS, which causes excessive workloads, however we believe the strain is also due to a lack of demarcation between staff's roles and duties.

  8.  This close working relationship also leads to excessive pressure on CPS staff from police officers for work to be done or decisions made quickly, sometimes inappropriately which has led to cases of workplace bullying in co-located sites. An audit we conducted using the management standards produced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in 2007 showed that 25% of staff (including lawyers) working in IPT workplaces felt they had or were being bullied. This issue has sadly not been addressed by management, despite repeated representation from us.

  9.  We contend that this is unacceptable and would call on the CPS and the Police to provide adequate resourcing, clear roles and separate estate premises.

  10.  We also believe that the CPS should be an independent prosecuting body, with its own staff in its own offices, taking decisions of the appropriate charges to lay in criminal cases, and prosecuting criminal cases in the Courts.

  11.  In 2001 Sir Ian Glidewell made recommendations to co-locate CPS and Police staff for the sake of efficiency savings. External pressures for efficiency savings (generally the Police) have driven the London Criminal Justice Board to drive on with a change programme—IPTs which co-locate CPS staff in police stations. They then take on a greater proportion of case building work. We know from our members that this approach is creating problems for CPS staff, as far from having increased administrative budgets, CPS areas are working within a flat cash settlement, 3.5% year on year savings, plus job cuts.

ORGANISATION OF THE CPS

  12.  The CPS has 42 areas across England and Wales, aligned with the local police authorities. Each area is headed by a Chief Crown Prosecutor (CCP) who is responsible for the delivery of a prosecution service to his or her local community. A "virtual" 43rd area, CPS Direct (CPSD), is also headed by a CCP and provides out-of-hours charging decisions to the police. Three casework divisions, based in headquarters, deal with the prosecution of serious organised crime, terrorism and other specialised prosecution cases.

  13.  Each CCP is supported by an Area Business Manager (ABM), and their respective roles mirror, at a local level, the responsibilities of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and Chief Executive. Administrative support to areas is provided through a network of business centres.

  14.  A review of the CPS area organisation took place in 2007, which resulted in reforms to enhance the existing area structure. 41 of the 42 existing CPS areas were re-organised into 15 "groups" (CPS London was excluded).

  15.  The groups have been given a remit to "deliver measurable improvements across a range of functions". The CPS areas within the group retain their internal structure and management (retaining their CCP and ABM) however each regional group is overseen by a group strategy board, chaired by a senior CCP, and supported by a senior ABM. The board consists of the other CCPs and ABMs within the group. The reform was designed to "improve the resilience and effectiveness of the Service and its capability to deliver a world class prosecution service and meet the challenges of the future".

  16.  We feel however that the latest reform is simply a low cost attempt to regain central control lost a number of years ago when the CPS devolved from 13 regional areas (approximately mirroring the current Group jurisdictions). This places a middle tier of 15 group chairs (who also retain the management of their own area), between the local areas and CPS headquarters.

  17.  Additionally each regional group includes a group operations centre (GOC) which is tasked to deliver common services and a complex casework unit. These both have their own internal management structures, but the lead ABM and CCP provides ultimate governance.

  18.  The effectiveness of these regional groups, their operations centers and complex casework units is questionable at present, as they only became effective in April and in many cases their roles and responsibilities are still unclear. The work, systems and processes which are group chair led and GOC managed as opposed to those retained at an area or unit level are often a cause for confusion among the workforce.

LOCAL CRIMINAL JUSTICE BOARDS (LCJBS)

  19.  LCJBs bring together the chief officers of local criminal justice agencies to deliver the Public Service Agreement (PSA) targets in their area and to drive through criminal justice reforms.

  20.  All LCJBs have produced delivery plans to bring more offenders to justice, reduce ineffective trials and increase public confidence. Progress on the plans is reported to the National Criminal Justice Board (NCJB), the Attorney General, Solicitor General, DPP and CPS Chief Executive, along with the Home Secretary, Secretary of State for Justice and others who are also members of the NCJB

  21.  Although there is general knowledge of the existence of LCJBs the link and influence of the boards on operational and front-line work and the staff undertaking it (mainly caseworkers, associate prosecutors (lay advocates), administrators and managers) tends to be unclear.

  22.  Issues of governance have arisen; in particular in London in IPT pilot sites where CPS staff are working alongside Metropolitan Police staff having absorbed much of the duties previously undertaken by Police criminal justice units. There is a lack of clear guidance about what duties have been transferred and the workload involved has lead to serious staffing issues, which have been exacerbated by budget cuts and introduction of other initiatives alongside IPT such as OBM.

  23.  It has also been unclear about the independence of the CPS when our members are working so closely alongside the Police. Public perception of CPS independence may be affected once they become more aware of the recent close working relationships between the Police and CPS. Even if the public are not concerned about the CPS decision making process being so close to Police, prosecutors may suggest that CPS is not as separated and independent in its decision making process as previously thought.

  24.  PCS also believe that the close working relationships LCJBs allow has created a situation where different parts of the criminal justice system start vying for the work done by their LCJB partners. The CPS chief operating officer recently informed PCS that some constabularies were actively seeking to take over the administrative work undertaken by PCS members in CPS, in a reversal of the IPT, where CPS staff have absorbed duties of their colleagues in the Metropolitan Police. We speculate that this is probably as a result of the Flanagan Report.

  25.  If this is realised then the future for a separate and independent CPS is bleak and we believe this would be a retrograde step back to the pre-CPS days of prosecution solicitors receiving their files directly from Police with limited decision making and input about charging.

How effectively the CPS operates and serves its customers

  26.  At the end of March 2008 the CPS employed a total of 8,351 people, 54 fewer than at the same time the previous year. This includes 2,913 prosecutors and 4,946 caseworkers and administrators. Over 91% of all staff are engaged in, or support, frontline prosecutions. The CPS has 945 prosecutors able to appear in the crown court and on cases in the higher courts and 419 associate prosecutors (formerly known as designated caseworkers) able to present cases in the magistrates' courts.

RESOURCING

  27.  While we agree to with the content and spirit of the CPS vision statement, PCS believe that the lack of resourcing makes the goals unrealistic as excessive pressure is being placed on staff, both at the front line and in local area, group and headquarters functions.

  28.  Our members' experience is that reactive and often punitive HR management practices regularly prevail over supportive and developmental management. We believe that managers are under increasing pressure trying to manage their staff effectively and deliver on targets that they often have little or no control over, while increasingly having to fire-fight, plus take on the work of their absent or overworked staff. In the 2008 "Help shape our future" staff survey less than four in 10 CPS managers felt they had the time to focus on managing.

  29.  These concerns about excessive stress are reflected in both the CPS 2008 biannual staff survey and the HSE work related stress audit which was conducted in late 2007.

2008 STAFF SURVEY

  30.  Most staff reported there are simply not enough staff to do the work. This year, in the latest bi-annual staff survey conducted by the CPS, with our support and endorsement only a quarter of the 5,000 respondents thought there were enough staff to get the job done and this fell to just 9% in London IPT sites, where CPS workers find themselves working in Police stations performing police administration duties on top of their own.

  31.  Other results from the 2008 "Help shape our future" staff survey, support our concerns that the CPS is facing a dangerous level of under resourcing and stress:

    — Only 41% of staff felt comfortable with the pressure placed on them (against the government benchmark of 15%).

    — Over half feel they have to work excessive hours to get tasks completed.

    — Only one in five employees feel that the CPS does enough to reduce the risks to work related stress.

    — Only 57% felt they had the right work/life balance (against the government benchmark of 46%).

    — Only 57% of front line staff felt that the service they provided was good, due to lack of resources and excessive stress (dropping to 45% in London).

    — Only 25% feel that the CPS is taking steps to reduce work related stress.

  32.  Self declaration questions on unpaid overtime and extra hours worked shows that for overtime, the extra hours staff worked would equate to between 38 and 55 extra staff being employed by the CPS. For hours of unpaid work, this would equate to between 109 and 169 additional staff for the CPS.

WORK RELATED STRESS

  33.  PCS recently carried out a stress audit on a wide range of our members across the department. In total we audited 250 members, using the HSE's management standards for work related stress. The results were alarming and showed excessive stress levels across all root causes. The management standards include a toolkit questionnaire for measuring stress, which places the root causes of stress into five categories or "stressors".

  34.  The results for the representative sample of 250 CPS staff showed that by HSE standards, there was "clear need for improvement" in control, management support and peer support and "urgent action" needed in job demands, relationships, role and change.

  35.  The results also show higher levels of work related stress in workplaces where our staff work regularly outside of the CPS office, eg in Police stations and court centres. Despite the clear evidence of excessive stress levels at work, we believe that the CPS has failed to address this issue. Requests by the union for a full audit of staff, a system for managing and reducing stress and an improved Occupational Health Service have been not been acted upon so far.

COST OF PRIVATE CONSULTANTS

  36.  Despite the resource cuts and pay restraint for civil and public servants, the CPS continues to spend vast sums of money on the private sector, with over £4.5 million being spent on consultant's fees alone in the last financial year. Many of whom, we would argue are doing the work of civil servants at a cost of many times their salary or who provide little or no value to the service.

WITNESS CARE

  37.  PCS strongly believe that the CPS should have responsibility nationally for witness care, and be funded accordingly. The position across the country is mixed, with some CPS areas providing nearly all the WCU staff and others providing just a token presence. Across the department CPS staff make up only 30% of the staff in WCUs.

  38.  In the 2007-08 CPS annual report it acknowledged that since the introduction of WCUs, ineffective trials due to missing witnesses has fallen by 63% in the Crown Court and 14% in the Magistrates Court. Overall, attendance rates increased by 78% to 84%.

  39.  Where CPS provides WCU staff, PCS members send letters to witnesses asking for dates to avoid, speak to them over the phone if there are any problems or special needs and warn them about the failure to attend court. PCS members also help draft letters to victims in cases where there was an adverse outcome.

  40.  A PCS WCU survey conducted in 2006, along with the CPS staff attitudinal survey identified problems in WCUs linked to inadequate resources; such as long hours, stress and cultural issues between CPS and Police staff. They also identified other problems including inadequate IT, training and accommodation.

Staff functions and effective case management

  41.  Effective case management used to be seen as cradle to the grave file ownership for prosecutors and caseworkers alike. It instilled a greater personal responsibility towards the timely and effective preparation of the case for trial and we believe as a direct consequence of diminishing resources, CPS has sought to achieve greater efficiencies through initiatives that do not always complement each other.

  42.  Creating separate crown advocate units (that take crown court cases after the plea and case management hearing), case progression units (that liaise with the courts, lawyers and caseworkers on how far the case has been prepared) and now optimum business model "pods", (a more resource intensive push for "pod staff" to get all trial files trial ready two weeks in advance of hearing), it can be seen that the emphasis has shifted away from file ownership.

  43.  Another cause of the change to OBM is that prosecutors have high in-house advocacy targets, so are rarely in the office to work on their own files. Crown advocates (in the crown court) also have a high in-house coverage target and can decide to return a case to the reviewing lawyer and caseworker, often with little time left before trial.

  44.  Lines of responsibility and accountability have become blurred, and the allocated reviewing lawyer's decision may be reversed by the crown advocate, while communication of the crown advocate's decision (maybe a letter to the victim about discontinuance) will still rest with the reviewing lawyer.

Effective decision-making on charges and whether to prosecute

  45.  Before charging a defendant and proceeding with a prosecution, crown prosecutors must first review each case against the code for crown prosecutors. The code sets out the principles the CPS applies when carrying out its work. The principles are whether:

    — There is enough evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction against each defendant on each charge; and, if so.

    — A prosecution is needed under the public interest.

CHARGING

  46.  Decisions on charging are generally seen as effective and the DPP has stated in the 2007-08 CPS annual report that as a result guilty plea rates have increased by 85% in the magistrates' courts and 20% in the crown courts. PCS acknowledges that whilst effective, we have concerns at the efficiency of part of this delivery—CPS Direct.

  47.  Charging lawyers at CPSD on average, advise on less than four cases per working shift. While we fully support charging and believe it has been the driver behind narrowing the justice gap we do not agree with Sir Ronnie Flanagan's' recommendation to shift charging in all but the most serious of cases back to the police.

  48.  We fear that his antagonistic position exists because of the difference in targets of both the CPS and the Police. The target for the Police is around "detection rates" (they secure the charge and what comes after it including the trial is seen as an added burden) and the CPS targets to reduce attrition rates (by charging only evidentially strong cases).

  49.  We are also concerned by his recommendation (22b) that the Home Office and Attorney General consider alignment of both organisations' objectives. We believe that this would not address the central problem, that the Police are not best suited to decide what evidence is required to prove a charge. This is the job for the CPS as an independent authority which was set up to prosecute criminal cases investigated by the Police in England and Wales.

CONCLUSION

  50.  We agree that partnership work should continue, however co-locating staff in Police stations, in an already stressed environment, does nothing to improve the effective processing and charging of cases and would request that the committee make representations to support our concerns. We also strongly believe that witness care needs to be delivered by CPS staff nationally and funded properly. This would improve the attendance rates and participation of witnesses.

  51.  PCS believe the CPS is generally working effectively, however this is at the expense of its staff who are excessively stressed and under-resourced. This submission details our concerns and we would hope the committee can take these up with Attorney General and the incoming DPP to ensure that our members are afforded the proper resources to deliver an effective service.

October 2008





 
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