Performance at the Crown Prosecution Service in London has dropped over the past two years despite falling workloads, according to the service’s independent watchdog.
A report by HM Crown Prosecution Services Inspectorate says that overall, despite some improvements since the last report in 2010, casework performance of CPS London remained ‘poor’.
Inspectors examined 79 cases finalised in magistrates’ courts and found that only 38% had adequate reviews. The ‘lack of grip’ on cases, said the report, led to cases being discontinued late in the day or not being strengthened.
The report shows that over the two years to the end of September 2013, the caseload for CPS London in magistrates’ courts has fallen by 25%. The number of discontinued cases rose from 8% in 2009/10 to 13% in the year ending September 2013.
Crown court caseloads dropped by 15% over the same period, but performance improved, although it still lags behind the national average.
For the 12 months ending September 2013, successful outcomes were achieved in 74% of cases, up from 72% in 2009/10, while the number of discontinued cases fell by 1%.
In respect of violent crimes against women, performance improved, from 56% of successful outcomes in 2010/11 to 63% in the 12 months to September 2013. The prosecution of hate crimes dropped slightly over the same period.
In the Crown court, the report said prosecutors demonstrated ‘full grip’ in 34% of cases.
The report notes that the performance is set against a background of budget and staff cuts.
CPS London suffered 18% staff cuts, higher than nationally. This, says the report, ‘manifests in staff working under considerable pressure to deal effectively with cases as they progress through the system and substantial expenditure on overtime payments across the grades’.
Inspectors found that charging decisions taken by London’s prosecutors were ‘good’, but too many police-charged cases either failed to comply with the Code for Crown Prosecutors or should have been referred to the CPS for a decision.
The inspectorate's chief inspector Michael Fuller acknowledged progress that has been made in ‘difficult and challenging’ times. He said the CPS had done much to position itself for future budget cuts, but said that ‘comes with a price’ which is reflected in workloads and case preparation.
Chief crown prosecutor for CPS London Baljit Ubhey welcomed the acknowledgment that ‘substantial progress’ has been made. She said: ‘As stated in the report, prosecutors in London face unique pressures and challenges. But London has delivered the most improved performance nationally in 2013/14.’
Ubhey said: ‘We and our police partners have already started work to improve the timeliness and quality of files and are working with them closely to improve the quality of police-charged files and bring to an end earlier those police-charged cases that should not proceed.'
In addition she said she will be appointing a head of casework quality.