CPS lawyers have been criticised for failing to engage effectively with defence practitioners amid efforts to reduce delays in magistrates’ courts.
A report published by the CPS Inspectorate today says a ‘clear message’ is needed from CPS managers to staff and defence practitioners about expectations in relation to engagement.
‘CPS lawyers are failing to engage effectively with the defence prior to the first hearing,’ the report states.
‘Whilst there are obstacles to constructive and early engagement, they are not such that the concept should be abandoned. Much more effort needs to be made to bring about the required culture change at an operational level.’
The Transforming Summary Justice initiative was established in 2015 to reduce delays in magistrates’ courts, hold fewer hearings per case and increase the number of trials that go ahead the first time they are listed.
The programme was agreed by parties including the CPS, police forces, senior presiding judge, the judiciary, the chief magistrate, Magistrates’ Association, National Probation Service and the Law Society.
Reporting on the CPS’s contribution so far, the inspectorate said CPS charging decisions were good but ‘there was a failure to review cases for the first hearing in too many instances’.
Inspectors found duplication in the work done by the CPS direct charging lawyer, CPS area lawyer undertaking the initial review and the court prosecutor in respect of the review for trial preparation.
The CPS was ‘poor’ at ensuring that initial details of the prosecution case were served on the defence in advance of the hearing.
However inspectors said there was a ‘clear commitment’ to the initiative and strong leadership from senior CPS representatives.
CPS legal training was ‘very good and well received’, though inspectors said it would have been enhanced by coverage of more practical issues.
More than three-quarters of first hearings were ‘effective’. The report states that CPS prosecutors were ‘well prepared, robust and able to make decisions’.
Chief crown prosecutor Barry Hughes said the report highlighted the CPS’s ‘positive contribution’ to the joint initiative.
’A lot of work has gone into ensuring that our prosecutors are provided with the necessary training and support, and we are pleased this has been acknowledged within the report’.
The CPS is ’committed to further improving how the system works’, alongside the police and court service.
’We are already taking action on many of the report’s recommendations and will continue to work to ensure victims and witnesses do not face unnecessary delays and hearings, and to increase overall efficiency in the magistrates’ court,’ Hughes said.