The CPS talk a good talk on their website about efficiency, which may or may not reflect entirely everyone’s experience. It’s always good, therefore, seeing how others see them, and we now have the April 2014 Service Inspectorate Report on London CPS to aid us with that.
They are generally polite fellows at the Service Inspectorate, and so use much less fruity language than I would. It’s arguably a mixed bag – some good, some bad, although I would argue that the ‘good’ parts are mainly good relative to what came before. In fact, I would say that it is a sign of how bad things are that there are not more concerns raised.
It’s worth a read in full, but here is a summary of the report :
The performance in Mags and Crown Courts
- The “Stop Doing Justice!” initiative is not working as planned, with matters in the Magistrates’ Court being raised at the trial when they should have been before – it is still not possible to case manage everything at a first appearance in the Mags Court.
- There was an impressive 22.2% cases where the CPS were compliant with the directions of the Magistrates’ Court (the top 3 offenders being disclosure of unused, late special measures applications and failure to serve CCTV).
- The CPS had a ‘full grip’ on 31.2% of Magistrates’ Court cases, some grip in 36.3% and no grip in 32.5%
- 46% of Magistrates’ Court trials are effective (42% of those are adjourned to another day). In fairness, only 1/3 of ineffective trials are the CPS fault (the main cause seemingly is double listing of trials).
- 43% of cases (presumably as a percentage of cases that are dropped) are dropped after three hearings in the courtroom.
- Disclosure in the Magistrates’ Court was dealt with on time in 22.7% of cases.
- Initial Disclosure was dealt with correctly in 36.9% of cases.
- Ongoing Disclosure is dealt with correctly in 22.7% of cases.
- Sensitive Disclosure schedules was dealt with correctly in 6.2% of cases.
- 44% of Magistrates’ Court trial files were of sufficient quality (judged by the Inspectorate’s standards).
- Preliminary Hearings are a waste of time (my words, not theirs, but that’s what they mean).
- Only 33% of trials went ahead on the date ‘set down’. This seems low, even given the shambles that is listings in London, (it is not clear how warned lists fit into this, presumably it means the day it was fixed or brought in for trial) but it may be due to a habit of listing 86 cases as floaters on a Monday with one two being realistically capable of being reached), but 55.8% of trials are ‘effective’.
- Court Directions were complied with fully and on time in 34.5% of cases
- Judges orders were complied with in 23.5% of cases (it is not clear what the difference would be here, but putting it together, the overall compliance will be less that 23.5%)
- However, the CPS systems shows a compliance rate of 51.9% – the reason for this difference is unclear.
- CPS have a ‘full grip’ on 36.6% of cases, some grip on 46.5% and no grip on 16.9%
- Initial Disclosure was complied with in 56.9% of cases.
- Sensitive Schedules were dealt with correctly in 34.5% of cases
- Monitoring of disclosure was fully complied with in 37.9% of cases
- Instruction to counsel was ‘fully satisfactory’ in 29.9% of cases
- 33% of CPS reviews were of sufficient quality
- There is an increase in the proportion of cases with a ‘successful outcome’ (although the definition of this may differ from yours or mine)
- Morale has improved in the last two years
- Corporate Governance (grrr…I hate that term) is ‘good’ (p9)
- The CPS are good at charging – they got 100% of their charging decisions right (based on a sample of 101 cases), as opposed to the police which had only a 78% success rate. Although it is not quite clear how it is judged that the Code for Crown Prosecutors was applied correctly, but let’s not get into details.
- Only 11% of CPS charging decisions were ‘poor’.
- In over 90% of cases there is ‘timely’ service of the Prosecution case in the Magistrates’ Court.
- It is rare for applications (other than Special Measures) to be dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court on the first appearance (mainly due to lack of information). This is put forward as a bad thing, but I actually think it is a good one – it’s rarely possible to do it properly at the first appearance.
- London is severely under-resourced. There is a mean number of 45.7 contested mags court and 12.6 contested crown court cases per prosecutor. This is more than double the number outside London.
- Casework quality is ‘poor’ (p15)
- The police only managed to have the correct paperwork to the CPS for the first appearance in 30% of cases.
In the two years prior to September 2013, there has been:
- 18% cut in staff numbers (19% cut in prosecutors, 17.4% in administrators and paralegals)
- 24.7% drop in Magistrates’ Court cases, but only a
- 3.9% drop in contested Mags cases
- 15.3% drop in Crown Court cases, but only a
- 7.6% drop in contested Crown Court cases
- The annual cost to the CPS in London of sick leave is £541,000
- The CPS “intends to redeploy Crown Advocates to the Crown Court in 2014-2015” which is identified as a risk to case preparation, and will also (of course) impact on the Bar.
A note on the Early Guilty Plea Scheme
The London EGPS is administered by the EGP Team. This has a legal manager, 10 lawyers and 2 administrative staff. They are supposed to check each case to see if it is an Early Guilty plea case, check there is enough material to allow a plea to be entered (stop sniggering at the back), and check that there is a reasonable prospect of conviction.
Amazingly, this is ‘not fully effective’. It is noted that it would be a lot easier for the defence to engage if “all the necessary material to properly inform a guilty plea is available by the preliminary hearing, particularly CCTV”. Which is of course what many of us have been saying (and would have said had there been a consultation on the EGPS rather than it being imposed on the defence unilaterally).
Has it worked? The number of hearings per guilty plea in the Crown Court has gone up (a probably not statistically significant amount) to 3.84 (it’s 2.02 in the Magistrates’ Court). It may be thought that the nonsense that is the EGPS has contributed to this and masked a slight outburst of efficiency, but the percentage of cases that plead at the first appearance in the Crown Court has actually gone down (by 0.2% – certainly not statistically significant) to 31.5%. It appears that there has been no savings in terms of Court time, just money off the defence budget (but more than compensated by the increase in costs to other budgets).
There’s a lot that could be said here, but I’ll focus on just one point. The biggest causes in delays in the system is the failure to comply with directions (whether set by legislation, rules or the Court). This means cases drift, cases are ineffective, and the Courts are clogged up with unnecessary hearings. It also generates a culture of non-compliance.
It says a lot for how bad things are currently, and how inefficient our system is that the fact that there is proper compliance by the CPS with Court directions in less than one in four cases passes by with nothing stronger than a resigned shrug. Step back and apply that to anything else – Probation, for example – what would we say if 75% of people on a Community Order breached it? The Mail would have a heart attack and it would be trumpeted on the front pages of every tabloid.
Ditto in any other area of life – if you ordered your groceries on-line and Tesco turned up late, or not at all, or with the wrong stuff three times out of four, then how likely would you be to carry on using them? If a GP or Social Worker said that they had ‘no grip’ over a third of their caseload, what would you think about this?
This report is evidence for what everyone knows – the system is at breaking point and pretty much in a state of collapse. This report should cause outrage, and cries demanding change, but it won’t.
It is also clear why the MoJ have refused to change the rules on costs to allow costs orders to be made in Grad Fee cases. In fairness, it is clear that the CPS would be swiftly bankrupt if they were hauled into Court and had to pay the defence costs in cases where there were failings on their part. Just one example of that – the total defence costs for non-compliance of Court orders (on the basis of all cases with problems being listed with defence costs of £200 costs for the Crown Court and £100 for the Mags Court – a pretty conservative estimate) would be £1.74 million annually. Then add in all those ineffective trials etc and you could see that the CPS would be wiped out financially.
We are all human, and we all make mistakes, and so 100% compliance is not realistic. But shouldn’t we be aiming for 95% or something like that? I do in my cases. I’m pretty confident that I haven’t missed a deadline this year (either defending or in my dealings with the CPS as a prosecutor), but that should be nothing to be proud of, it should be the norm. Let us start with Court orders – for example, how many Preliminary Hearing do you see where there is full compliance with the Criminal Practice Direction? This could be remedied simply with extra resources.
It is clear that there are many good people within the CPS (in fact, I’d go as far as saying that ‘some of my best friends are CPS lawyers’), but what all the initiatives and re-arrangements cannot hide is the fundamental fact that the CPS is chronically under resourced. Mr Grayling – please, please, please – either cut the number of cases that are prosecuted or give the CPS some more money (and if you really want the system to work, bung some more at the Courts and Defence too). To fail to do something about this is to fail every victim, defendant, witness and member of CJS staff.