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

Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers 320-339)


24 FEBRUARY 2009

  Q320  Chairman: How much of a system do you have to keep you informed of any non-compliance?

  Keir Starmer: Well, very often the conditions are conditions which we have recommended in the first place and therefore we will follow them through with the police, who will implement the caution. But they will have come from us and therefore we have got an interest in ensuring that they are complied with and obviously it is our decision, if they are not complied with, to proceed with a charge.

  Q321  Chairman: Does that happen in very many cases?

  Keir Starmer: It happens in some. I do not have the figures before me, but certainly we could try and put them before the Committee.[3]

  Q322 Chairman: We are interested in how it compared with Magistrates' Court sentences, which have a compliance element—a suspended sentence, for example, where it is very open, clear and transparent where compliance has not taken place. It may be less obvious in your Conditional Caution cases.

  Keir Starmer: I accept it is done in a different way and it is not done in open court and therefore one does not have that degree of transparency.

  Q323  Dr Whitehead: How well do you think the CPS is doing in delivering its core business, its overall performance and measurement of its performance, and indeed how is the progress in delivering its core business actually measured?

  Keir Starmer: If I may, I will answer that in two ways. Since I took up office I have been visiting each of the areas in turn. There are 42 in total and Peter and I are visiting them all before April, so we are literally going to each of the 42 areas to get a hands-on view of what is going well that we should build on and where there are problems which have got to be dealt with and how we can deliver a better quality service. So far as performance itself is concerned, obviously the performance reviews we undertake have got to be transparent and they have got to inspire confidence. There are two elements. There is the internal element. We have quarterly performance, area performance reviews, so each area has a review and I think you have been given some documentation relating to that which I will take you to in just a moment. The broad scheme is that there is a basket of key performance indicators against which each area is rated. If there are any red ratings then at the performance review meeting, which the Chief Executive and the DPP attend, the area has to explain what action it is going to take to deal with that rating. We also identify good practice, so there is the internal aspect. Externally, of course, we have the Inspectorate who have overall performance assessments. They have done assessments, I think, in 2005, 2007 and they are due to do another one in 2010, and we take the two together. So we have got our internal process and the external process, which we would say is very robust in identifying poor performance and dealing with it.

  Q324  Dr Whitehead: On your internal measures is the national rating that you set as an outcome the sum total of your local ratings, or is that an entirely differently derived measure?

  Peter Lewis: May I explain, because it is something I have had a little bit more experience of? If I can explain the process, I hope this will answer the question. We set the national targets at the CPS Board. We then segment them so that we can have a rating for each target, so red, amber, going up to green. We look at each area quarterly against each of those targets to see where they are and if they are making progress. We then want to know overall, because of course we are looking at each area and we also want to see if there is a trend, is there a particular issue overall that we are missing? So, for example, we would look at proceeds of crime, we would look at each area and say whether they were doing well or not, but we would also want to know at board level overall are we getting enough money in. So we would look down the list and say, "How much money are we getting in at that stage?" So that may mean you could have, looking down the issue, quite a few areas which appear to be under-performing and we would want to tackle that with them, but because some of our stronger areas are over-performing and bringing in lots of money they would balance, so that we would know, looking down this, for example, overall we are bringing in the right sum of money but if all of our areas pull their socks up and made some more effort we could bring in even more. So that is how we approach it. On each area we are looking across all of them to see if they could improve but we are also seeing if there are bigger trends. So, for instance, if we did have a problem on proceeds of crime, as you can see from papers we have shown you that is something we are keeping a very close eye on at the moment because although some of our strong areas are doing really well, there are lots of areas that could do better.

  Q325  Chairman: If you look down the column it is sickness and prosecution costs which seem to exhibit the most red squares?

  Peter Lewis: Yes. Can I say on the prosecution costs we rate areas, because it is budgetary, on their predictability as well as the outcome. So say, for instance, overall in prosecution costs we are under-spending, the areas have actually got those ratings mostly because they are under-spending but it is more than their profile because we want predictability. So even though they are under-spending, we say, "You should have made a better estimate at the beginning of the year to profile your spending and therefore even though you are on the right side of the equation we still think you have not done better -

  Chairman: There is more than one way of dealing with the model!

  Q326  Dr Whitehead: I was observing these dashboards—it is more like a sort of aircraft control centre than a dashboard—and the appearance systematically of the national rating, at the bottom of the list is not just significantly but very substantially more rosy than appears to be the case by the aggregation of areas. Whilst I take, of course, what you are saying about the fact that some areas are over-performing, in some instances some areas would have to be over-performing very astonishingly in order to achieve the outcome at the bottom. I cannot help thinking that either that ought to be better unpacked or there does appear to be a rather rosier picture emerging at the national level than is evidenced by what is happening up and down the localities.

  Peter Lewis: Can I say to begin with this is the tool that the Director and I use to drive up performance so it is not in our interests for it to be rosy at all. What we want to do is identify problems and intervene because, as you have already heard, part of our object is to drive up the performance of the core business, but we do want an overall feel particularly, say, on the money. Is this that we have got a real crisis or is this about driving up the individual performance? So we are constantly revising and looking at this, but the object is that we spend most of our time looking at the individual areas and this is just our overview. What the detail is, we get each area in and we go through each of these issues, not just looking at this rating here but we have some detailed analysis from our people about what the performance is that lies behind it, and also an explanation from the area on each of these detailed issues. So our whole focus is driving up the performance of each individual area. This is just to give us a brief picture on, say, proceeds, whether we have got a big underlying problem. But to go back to where I started from, it is absolutely not in our interests to present a rosy picture, not least because we know the inspection regime is going to look at it completely from the outside and if we have given ourselves a false picture they will very soon put us right.

  Q327  Dr Whitehead: How within that arrangement do you make sure that new initiatives actually do not crown out what is longer term practice, that new work essentially becomes embodied in a contract. I know, for example, that indeed your sickness indicator has been replaced between two quarters by people measures. I am not sure whether that is a new initiative or whether that is a different way of defining an indicator.

  Peter Lewis: We get reviewed quite a lot and we have obviously got the inspection looking at us. We have also got a capability review process and when we were looked at by the capability review one of the things they said to us is, "Of course it is right to look at your sickness level, that is important and we will continue to look at it," but they said to us—and we accepted this advice—"The real important things are, have you got really engaged staff who are well-led, properly inducted and well-trained? That is actually what you really ought to be focusing on, not just the very narrow issue about who is sick, important though that is." So in response to that we are refining these all the time and we have taken the advice that basically we need to focus on those issues which are better indicators of the overall strength of the organisation, and that seems sensible to us.

  Q328  Dr Whitehead: This picture then provides us with a substantial snapshot of what is happening with the localities and what is happening nationally and what you have said in your strategy and business plan is that one of your aims will be to clearly define what is a national service locally delivered means to the CPS, and then you have gone on to say it is about "articulating the roles of different parts of the organisation and how they work together to achieve our strategy, strengthening our partnership, working in our financial capabilities." What does that actually mean?

  Keir Starmer: Can I answer this? A national service locally delivered. The way we see it is this, focusing for the first part on the national. At the national level there must be common priorities, common standards, common targets and common policies. So that runs right through the organisation nationally. There is also, obviously, a central focus through the DPP and through the Chief Executive. It is delivered locally and local is that you have the area as the principal unit with the Chief Crown Prosecutor and that is important because of the engagement with the local criminal justice boards. You have got to have an appropriate leader at the appropriate place to plug into the criminal justice system as a whole. Because that Chief Crown Prosecutor is working with other agencies in that area there is going then to be local variation. It is not like Tesco where there is one product which is simply being sold in different areas. The area has to operate in accordance with other agencies and in the area, so you will get variation and you will have discretion and you have to have that to make that effective at the local level. There will then be questions of best practice which are not within the central core targets or standards. We encourage best practice and to that extent would see consistent best practice across areas, but the difference between this model and a model for any other national organisation is the fact of local discretion, the reasons for it and so long as one stays with the areas as the principal units, for good reason, that is probably the best way the system could be set up.

  Q329  Dr Whitehead: So how does the rationale of restructuring the CPS into 15 areas fit with that description?

  Keir Starmer: The principal unit is still the area, so you have still got 42 areas and each area will have a Chief Crown Prosecutor for the reasons I have given. There are now 15 groups where areas are grouped together. The driving force behind that—and this is probably the best explanation—was as follows: firstly, it was appreciated that for complex cases it was better to have an arrangement which went beyond a single area because very often crime will go beyond the area and the capacity will go beyond the area, and the policing of the offence will go beyond the area. So there was good reason to have some more serious cases dealt with on a group basis so complex case units were set up. Secondly, some functions were better carried out across a number of areas. Communications would be an example. Equality and diversity is another example, so some functions across the groups. Also, there were some resource implications, some efficiencies if certain activities were dealt with on a group basis. So it was not, as it were, a simple restructuring as such, it was, "How do we deal with those three issues and accommodate them whilst retaining the 42?" and that led to the group structure. It obviously means that we now have a group chair, who is, as it were, the senior Chief Crown Prosecutor within the group and the senior Area Business Manager, who do have oversight of what is going on in the group but it is not, as it were, a return to the 13 areas that used to be the position back in, I think, 1992. So it is a structure that is built on the 42 areas with the groups having been constructed to perform particular functions and it is pretty new but I think they are performing them well.

  Q330  Dr Whitehead: Does that facilitate the sharing of good practice between areas or is it not designed for that purpose, and if it is not designed for that purpose is there any method of making sure that happens?

  Keir Starmer: No, it is designed for that purpose. There is a Group Strategy Board which meets, so all of the Chief Crown Prosecutors and the Area Business Managers meet the Strategic Board, which would look at good practice across the areas within the group so that what was good practice in one area could be transferred across to another area. What the 15 groups have given us as well is the opportunity for all of the groups to get together, as it were, groups of 15, to also share best practice. That is very much part of it.

  Q331  Mr Heath: Just on one aspect of that, if I may, because I can see there may well be merits in having these groups for all sorts of purposes, but the one thing it does not seem to me to do from my knowledge of policing is to follow functional policing. As an example, Avon and Somerset, which I happen to know rather well, the crime area for Avon and Somerset does not extend down to Cornwall. In that group a Crown Prosecutor working in Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire would be actually nearer to Scotland than he would be to one working down in Penzance. So the crime area, the policing area that is logical is actually Avon and Somerset and South Wales and West Midlands because that is where the interlinks are between the serious crime.

  Keir Starmer: That is why it is important to appreciate why the group structure was put in place. It was not just to mirror regional policing. Partly that is the situation with complex cases but, for example, when it comes to courts and servicing the courts, they do not correlate with the policing but we have to service the courts. For example, advocacy can be dealt with on a group basis because the courts can be serviced better. So this was not a model designed only to suit or to fit with the pattern and structures of policing. Although there is an element of that in complex cases, it is also designed for other purposes and as soon as you look at the courts and the arrangement of the courts you will appreciate that a lot of thought had to go into the particular groupings. But it is not a restructuring for the sake of restructuring, it is to fulfil these particular functions in the best way that they can be fulfilled that it was done.

  Q332  Dr Whitehead: Does this structure facilitate good mechanisms for handling complaints against the CPS, and if it does are there mechanisms, for example, of peer review of complaint systems or do you think perhaps there is room for improvement in how complaints might be best handled?

  Peter Lewis: May I respond on this? We acknowledge that we have got to do more on complaints. Our complaints system at the moment is too old, too defensive, it is not open and transparent enough and we know we have got to do something about that. The inspectorate are doing some work now. They have been sharing their early findings and they have made that very clear to us, if we had not worked it out for ourselves already, and we are going to respond very promptly to that. So we know that what we have got there is old-fashioned and defensive. In terms of having some external scrutiny of it, we have been looking very closely at what has been taking place in Northern Ireland, where there is a degree of external scrutiny so that somebody is permanently looking at the complaints, the way people are responding to complaints and then giving feedback to the Director. We are going to take a hard look at that because we can see there are some benefits to it, but we are very clear that this is something we have got to attend to. It is not right now and we have got to deal with it quickly.

  Q333  Julie Morgan: I just want to ask you about your work in relation to victims and first of all if you could generally say what the CPS's role is in relation to victims?

  Keir Starmer: Although we prosecute on behalf of the public, we do acknowledge that victims and witnesses are central to what we do. Can I provide some context? The landscape, as you know, has changed enormously over the last ten years. There have been various pieces of legislation that have dealt with victims and witnesses and there has been a whole host of initiatives by the criminal justice agencies, including the CPS, to put victims and witnesses at the heart of the criminal justice system. So we have got various policies. As you know, there is a Prosecutor's Pledge, et cetera. What we have focused on recently is really trying to bring this together and therefore we have got a strategy for 2008 onwards which is trying to pull together all the initiatives of the last few years into one place and then to focus on the delivery side, and so we have got a delivery unit specifically for victims and witnesses. So we do see it as central to our core business and it will continue to be so. Our focus has got to be on delivery.

  Q334  Julie Morgan: Do you think the witnesses and victims are at the heart of the criminal justice system?

  Keir Starmer: Yes, that is how we view it and that is how we operate and therefore we are part of the service which is offered to a victim or a witness from, as it were, point of charge onwards, as it were, walking through the system, taking into account their views and acting on that insofar as we are able to do so through any number of different measures, obviously the question of whether special measures should be put in place for a witness and/or whether arrangements can be made for them to be at court, telling them where they have got to be at court, et cetera, and ensuring that when they do get to court they are told appropriately by the Prosecutor what is going on. So we do see them as part of the criminal justice system and we accept and acknowledge that we have a particular responsibility to them.

  Q335  Chairman: Is the victim in any sense a client of the CPS or not?

  Keir Starmer: No, the client of the CPS is the public, but the victim or the witness is central to what we do.

  Q336  Julie Morgan: Do victims understand that, because I know you are supposed to take into account the victim's views when you decide whether you are going to prosecute or not, but they do not have a determining role in that? It is quite difficult, I would have thought, for them to understand their role.

  Keir Starmer: Well, we do try to explain the arrangement to them. We do undertake to take their views into account. The Code that we operate to requires us to take their views into account and we do do so. I am not saying it is a perfect system, but that is the basis on which we approach it. We act on behalf of the public but we take into account, for obvious reasons, the views of a victim in any particular case. That is explained and we try to operate to that standard.

  Q337  Julie Morgan: So if a particular course of action was not acceptable to a victim, would you then change that course of action?

  Keir Starmer: Their views are listened to and taken into account. In some cases that may well lead to a particular course of action, but not necessarily. It is a factor that we take into account in the decisions we make. It is a very weighty factor, but it cannot be on our constitutional arrangements the determining factor in every case.

  Q338  Julie Morgan: What feedback do you get from the witnesses and victims about, for example, their views being taken into consideration? Have you any method of getting the feedback?

  Keir Starmer: Recently the OCJR did carry out a satisfaction survey of witnesses and there was 81% satisfaction. Obviously that could be improved upon, but it is not insignificant. We also ourselves have a number of mechanisms by which we try to capture the views of victims and witnesses and we have, for example, scrutiny panels looking at particular decisions after the event to learn any lessons that are there to be learnt about the way in which we have handled them, and the focus of that is very much on victims and witnesses. So there is a number of mechanisms and this is something that we are determined to get right.

  Q339  Julie Morgan: You also mentioned the special measures. We were told by Victim Support and MIND that they felt there was sometimes quite a delay in recognising that special measures were needed and this meant that the courts were not able to respond. Do you have any evidence of that?

  Keir Starmer: I did read that evidence and obviously that was of concern to us and we have done what work we can on it. Can I just give you these figures? In 2008 30,449 applications were made for special measures, of which 28,858 were granted. That gives you a sense that there is some really significant work being done here on behalf of victims and witnesses, and on those figures it would appear that we are identifying the right cases for special measures because the vast majority are being granted by the court. It is very difficult to gauge those cases that we have missed and we do not suggest the system is foolproof by any stretch of the imagination. There is no evidence, I think is the reality about cases which may have been missed, but we take seriously what previous witnesses have said to you as a cause for concern. To some extent it is a multi-agency problem because in the first instance the police are responsible for identifying cases where special measures might be needed, but it is also our responsibility and we accept that. We are actively considering some research to see if we can capture better some data about possible missed cases. But you do not know what you do not know. It is very difficult. As I have been able to demonstrate, I hope, there is a large number of cases in which measures have been put in place and we are doing all we can and take very seriously the challenge of ensuring that any that have got through the net should not get through the net in future.

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