The public can be confident that the Crown Prosecution Service is making correct charging decisions - but less so on whether those decisions are being adequately thought through and promptly, inspectors reveal today.
HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate decided to examine the quality and timeliness of charging decisions after the CPS returned responsibility for the majority of charging decisions from CPS Direct, a 24-hour national service, to 14 CPS regional areas. The intention was to address a backlog of cases that was causing tension between CPS Direct and the police.
HM chief inspector Kevin McGinty said: ‘There has been a marked improvement in getting the charge right at the outset, which is important, but there is significant room for improvement in respect of the quality of prosecutors’ legal analysis and the timeliness of their decision making.’
To make the most effective use of finite resources, HMCPSI says prosecutors should apply their mind to all relevant considerations at the pre-charge stage to ensure sound charging decisions are made, that the prosecution case is clear from the outset and that the trial strategy is set where a suspect is to be charged. Case files provided by the police must meet a national file standard.
However, 45% of CPS charging decisions fully met expectations for case analysis. Another 39.5% partially met the standard while 15.6% did not meet the standard at all.
Depending on the area and complexity of the case, the CPS aims to make charging decisions within five, 21 or 28 days of receiving a case file.
Charging decisions where the suspect was on bail were timely in 47.8% of the area-charged files examined, down from 63.9% in 2015, though the report states that areas back then were responsible for far fewer charging decisions.
CPS Direct outperformed the CPS areas on casework quality and timeliness.
HMCPSI said the CPS was unable to provide a 'formal finalised business case' for returning daytime charging to the CPS areas. 'However, this does not mean that we think the CPS should reconsider its position. What it does highlight is that doing something frequently and having an effective quality assurance regime in place can make a real difference in outcomes'.
A CPS spokesperson said: ‘We are encouraged the HMCPSI found we are charging our cases correctly in 97% of cases but know there still remains room for improvement. We have accepted all the report’s recommendations including reviewing our internal quality assurance and policy guidance material to streamline information and make sure it is clear and concise; putting mandatory training in place and working on sharing best case work practice.’