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

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 280-296)


10 FEBRUARY 2009

  Q280  Mr Tyrie: Does it have any bearing on the amount of remuneration or promotion or in any other respect? Does it affect people's careers?

  Stephen Wooler: I do not have direct knowledge of that.

  Q281  Mr Tyrie: Why would they mind really? I have only just found out that Sussex, which I happen to represent, seems to be doing well. No-one has ever come to me and said they could do better. Perhaps that is why.

  Stephen Wooler: I would be surprised if the director and the senior managers of the CPS did not take inspection findings into account when assessing performance. There is not a direct link but it is a very important factor in their appraisal process.

  Jerry Hyde: The director and the chief executive have taken positive action when an area has been rated poor and there have been changes in the management team in order to rectify that.

  Q282  Mr Tyrie: That is within an area. What about between areas?

  Stephen Wooler: I do not think there is any instance where somebody has been taken out from a poor area and put into another area.

  Q283  Mr Tyrie: I am looking to see what happens. I have not found one because I have not been looking closely enough. Suppose we had an area here which was poor, poor, poor, poor?

  Stephen Wooler: It is taken very seriously. The special measures do not involve the inspectorate.

  Q284  Mr Tyrie: Here we are. London North & East does not appear to be doing very well.

  Stephen Wooler: The example I was going to pick happened to be in the first round of overall performance assessments when Cumbria was found to be poor. At that time they were already receiving strong support. Certainly when an area is found to be poor the CPS have a management consultancy team who move in and try to assist. Sometimes it does need more radical measures. Where we have a poor area we always go back and re-inspect afterwards. Certainly the four that were poor in the first series in 2005, Cumbria, Essex, Bedfordshire and one other[2], all received a follow-up inspection quite shortly. In about six or eight weeks' time we are about to do follow-ups in relation to Surrey and Leicestershire which were the two which were poor in the year 2007-08.

  Q285 Mr Tyrie: I do not want to prolong this too much but let us just take one of these "Defining Aspects" "Delivering change". You turn up at Sussex and you ask how they are doing at delivering change. How do you measure that?

  Stephen Wooler: It focuses mainly on the initiatives which are being pursued in the criminal justice system at the time, whether that happens to be development of witness care units, whether it is the direct communications with victims scheme and we analyse the progress that they have made, how they have worked with their criminal justice partners and how far they have actually got in delivering that change and whether it is producing the results. We also look at whether at local level they are actually themselves measuring whether the benefits which are expected from them have been achieved.

  Q286  Mr Tyrie: Suppose there are five initiatives and you are looking to see whether they have delivered them, if someone has delivered all five in the preceding 12 months they get a good and if someone has delivered none of them they get a poor. Am I right?

  Stephen Wooler: If they have delivered them well, they will get a good or excellent.

  Q287  Mr Tyrie: These are only relative measures are they not, not absolute measures?

  Stephen Wooler: No, they are absolute measures in the sense that they are very clear criteria and you could have an aspect where there were universally low ratings and that has happened on some issues.

  Q288  Mr Tyrie: Let me end with a question which perhaps encapsulates it. Are you using these to try to find ways of enabling areas which are not performing very well to learn from the practice of the best? Or are you trying to draw up an objective standard against which everybody should judge themselves?

  Stephen Wooler: We are trying to drive up performance by encouraging chief crown prosecutors; indeed the director and the chief executive have both made it clear that they expect the individual areas to progress up and that each round of overall performance assessments should see a better performance. In that sense it is driving up performance. It is also setting an objective standard in that there are clear criteria which have to be met in relation to each of the aspects in order to secure particular ratings. Out of this work we do try to draw together the good practice and identify the areas which are doing well. From that we do know that the CPS areas do talk to each other. We know, for example, that Humberside, which was rated as excellent on the last occasion, has had a large number of delegations, people who are trying to learn from them, their systems, their processes and the way that they have tackled particular issues.

  Q289  Dr Whitehead: A very brief question. I understand that CPS has now been brigaded into 15 groups?

  Stephen Wooler: Yes.

  Q290  Dr Whitehead: What on earth does that mean? Are the brigades inspected? Are there brigadiers at the head of the brigades?

  Stephen Wooler: Restructuring is perhaps a better word. The 42 areas proved quite difficult in management terms from the point of view of the director and chief executive who had 42 separate chief Crown prosecutors reporting to them; certainly in terms of managing the performance of 42 separate areas. What has happened is that they have gone into 13 groups plus Greater Manchester and London which will stay. You can call them groups, you can call them areas[3]. The concept has come out of the need which the capability review flagged up to address how you are a national service locally delivered, to get greater emphasis on performance management and to some extent consistency. The original concept was that the groups would have a group chair who would set the strategy and the larger areas would assist the smaller areas. It has moved on from there in that there has been a recent decision that the group chair will in effect line manage the chief crown prosecutors in the areas for which he or she is responsible. That brings a new concept to it. I would not go so far as to say they are assistant chief crown prosecutors but it is a different relationship. The result of that is that there is a substantial redistribution of responsibilities and we are still actually talking to the CPS. The CPS are still developing the new structures with the result that we will have to revise the overall performance assessment mechanism to make sure that we focus on the areas, what is an area responsibility, and on the group, what is a group responsibility. That is really work in progress as far as the CPS is concerned. Without wishing to be unhelpful, probably the director is the person who is best able to describe exactly where they have got to in that process.

  Q291 Mr Heath: That rather knocks co-terminosity on the head to an extent.

  Stephen Wooler: There will be implications for things like that.

  Q292  Mr Heath: I just want to go back to your overall performance assessment. Speaking as a former member of the Audit Commission I am quite alarmed that you are reviewing your critical factors after relatively short exposure because every time you do that the benchmarks move and you do not have that direct comparability. My question is simply this: have you at any stage contemplated having a joint assessment with the National Audit Office so you get value for money built into the same inspection in terms of the areas? Certainly I found that the joint studies between the Audit Commission and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, for instance, were actually very valuable; same with the Social Services Inspectorate.

  Stephen Wooler: Obviously we do not have a lot of contact with the Audit Commission because they are primarily concerned with local authorities. We have quite a close working relationship with the National Audit Office. We assisted the National Audit Office in an advisory capacity in relation to the piece of work it did two years ago as regards case work in the magistrates' courts. We did actually seek to engage them in the work we are doing on advocacy to assist us with the value for money. They were not able to lend us anybody for that. There are some statutory inhibitions on actual formal joint activity between the National Audit Office, which of course accounts to Parliament, and ourselves, who account through ministers to the Government so that is an inhibition. However, we do actually exchange information and meet them quite regularly, we do try to use their expertise when we can and we have worked in an advisory capacity with them.

  Q293  Mr Turner: I may have missed the right end of the stick, as it were, but I am confused on what you have just told us about number of 13 groups instead of the ones which were designed on each police force. Is that correct? The Crown Prosecution Service is going over to a number of larger groups.

  Stephen Wooler: The Crown Prosecution Service will retain its 42 areas. However, they will be grouped together and there will be 13 groups plus London and Greater Manchester so that the group chair will, for example, retain his or her responsibilities for the area for which he or she is chief crown prosecutor but will also have a supervisory role in relation to a number of other areas.

  Q294  Chairman: We will question the director about this when we see him in a fortnight's time. It is presumably too soon for you to have inspected it because it is only just happening is it not?

  Stephen Wooler: Exactly. Just going back to Mr Heath's comment about changing the aspects, the only reason for seeking to change the aspect is actually to reflect the different division of responsibilities that there may be. For example, if budgeting is being done more at group level, then obviously we have to reflect that.

  Q295  Mr Heath: That is fine.

  Stephen Wooler: We try to keep comparability between the different assessments.

  Q296  Chairman: Is it unsatisfactory that there is no external recourse for complaints against the CPS? If there is a gap to be filled, should it be you who fills it?

  Stephen Wooler: There is a case for an external element. It is obviously a policy matter for the Attorney General at the end of the day. There is precedent for it in relation to the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland where they do have an independent complaints officer who is outside the Service. There is already an existing power for the Attorney General to ask us to look into matters relating to the Service which are of particular public concern. It would probably detract from our ability to inspect if we became routinely involved in reviewing complaints handling. I do not think I would want that role other than in exceptional circumstances.

  Chairman: Thank you very much indeed. We are very grateful to you for your evidence this afternoon.

2   Note by witness: this was CPS Devon and Cornwall Back

3   Note by witness: they are groups made up of several CPS areas Back

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