The Crown Prosecution Service deals with defence correspondence quickly, according to inspectors in a report published today which, they say, 'somewhat undermines' solicitors' claims that letters go unanswered.
HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate decided to inspect the handling of defence correspondence following a long-standing 'anecdotal narrative' that the CPS does not deal with correspondence effectively. Inspectors examined 200 files and 503 pieces of defence correspondence.
Its inspection showed that 407 (80.9%) pieces of correspondence were transferred to the CPS's case management system within 24 hours of being received. The CPS had to contact another agency, such as the police, for 196 pieces of correspondence before it could respond to the defence. In 30.8% of instances, a request to the other agency was not made until at least four days after the correspondence had been received.
Of the 196 pieces of correspondence that required the CPS to contact another agency, the agency responded to 142 requests. In 71 instances, the CPS got back to the defence within 24 hours.
The report states that many of the figures 'show quite a positive picture' of timely responses. 'Still, inspectors saw examples of correspondence in which the defence had written to the CPS multiple times requesting the same items and instances where we could find no response in the CMS [case management system] to the defence's query'.
Chief inspector Kevin McGinty said: 'Effective and timely handing of correspondence that affects the progress of cases is important. Having examined a large sample of correspondence we found that 80% of defence correspondence was dealt with by the CPS in a timely and effective manner. Clearly that still means that there is more the CPS can do.'
The report states that the CPS's current case management system 'is not user friendly, requires multiple actions by staff to "book in" incoming correspondence and, in cases with large numbers of items of correspondence, makes it extremely difficult to understand whether matters have been dealt with'.
CPS areas have centralised mailboxes to manage incoming correspondence. However, the report states that some emails, including those from the defence and notifications of undelivered emails, were being directed to junk folders. The Crown court digital case system was also affecting efficiency.
A new case management system is being developed. However, the report highlights 'simple changes' that can be made now - such as linking incoming correspondence and outgoing replies so that those dealing with defence correspondence can immediately identify whether all the issues have been dealt with.
The CPS said it was 'pleased that the inspectorate recognises the good work it is undertaking to improve defence correspondence handling. We recognise the importance early engagement plays and will continue to work with defence representatives to improve this.
'The report acknowledges that defence engagement both nationally and locally is challenging and we accept this is an issue that will require continued focus.'