Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence


The Main Issues and Recommendations in the Comptroller and Auditor General's Report on the Crown Prosecution Service

  This paper is a preliminary response to the C&AG's report on the CPS and deals with the main issues discussed in the report and the recommendations.

Main Issues

  The following paragraphs respond briefly to the issues raised by the NAO on:-

    1.  the level of discontinuance;

    2.   performance management including the corporate performance measures and the variation in Area performance;

    3.  the CPS's case tracking computer system (SCOPE) and the work on a private finance initiative for the future provision of IT services;

    4.  the Inspectorate;

    5.  returned briefs; and

    6.  the Glidewell Review

1.  Discontinuance

  The quality of evidence in police files and the timely delivery of those files to the CPS is the principal factor in the rate and timeliness of discontinuance decisions. The CPS will continue to work with the police through Joint Performance Management to identify the reasons for discontinuance. This will help to eliminate the waste of resources resulting from the unnecessary commencement of proceedings. The timely delivery of police files to the CPS will enable earlier decisions where cases must be discontinued. The CPS has already adopted the revised target of discontinuance before the second hearing in line with the NAO advice.

2.  Performance measurement

  In 1996 the CPS introduced revised corporate performance measures to provide a clearer focus on the CPS's outputs, particularly in relation to timeliness, quality and cost. During the first year, results were varied in terms of the efficiency and reliability of the system and local performance was patchy. In 1997 the CPS reviewed the new system (temporarily suspending it to enable revisions to be made) and subsequently introduced changes which reduced the number of measures and streamlined the collection process to improve efficiency and reliability.

  The CPS has now set national and local specific targets for improvements in performance. These recognise that CPS performance is affected by the performance of other agencies in the criminal system and, in particular, the timeliness and quality of files received from the police.

  Area performance will vary because of the local impact of other agencies on the CPS. Targeting specific improvements on poor performance can reduce the extent of variation. The CPS will continue to refine its performance measurement needs, focusing on timeliness, quality and cost and driving forward performance improvements through targeting. The CPS will adapt external reporting to explain more simply the measures and the CPS's performance against them.

3.  Scope and the Private Finance Initiative (PFI)

  Changes in legislation and in the organisation of the CPS have both hampered the introduction of an efficient computer system for CPS Areas. As a result, the project exceeded its original timescale and budget. The CPS will continue to use SCOPE as its principal case tracking system, and will make some minor improvements to it, but the future now lies in a PFI solution. The CPS intends to integrate its systems with the wider criminal justice system community and take advantage of new developments in IT. The CPS has initiated a project to procure future IS services under PFI. We intend the new IS service to improve the quality and timeliness of casework decisions; increase the efficiency of the casework process through automation and electronic communications with other agencies, particularly the police; and facilitate the efficient capture and presentation of management information. This should be achieved over the next two years.

4.  The CPS Inspectorate

  The CPS Inspectorate is staffed by members of the CPS and reports to the DPP. A number of alternative options would be possible. The Inspectorate could bring in staff from the public or private sector to introduce special expertise on a particular topic or topics. The prosecution decisions and decision-making processes of the CPS, however, would be inspected most effectively by those who have an intimate and detailed knowledge of the prosecution system: that is, by prosecutors of seniority and experience.

  The present CPS Inspectorate and its Chief Inspector do not feel inhibited by the fact that he reports to the DPP. If there is a perception to the contrary, however, the Chief Inspector could report to someone other than the DPP and this could be the Attorney General. The role of the CPS Inspectorate is currently being considered by the Glidewell Review.

5.  Returned Briefs

  The CPS and the Bar have agreed a scheme (taking effect on 1 February 1998) to monitor and improve the return rate of briefs delivered to barristers. Barristers' chambers will provide a monthly report to the CPS showing the extent to which a chambers has complied with the agreed Service Standard on returned briefs which was introduced in November 1996. The monthly reports will contain data on performance. CPS Branches and chambers will discuss and agree targets for improvement.

6.  The Glidewell Review

  The CPS and the Glidewell Review team are continuing to discuss proposals for the organisation and management in the new 42 Areas and the cost implications. The final report is expected to be available shortly.

The NAO's Recommendations

  The NAO report contains 22 recommendations. There are recommendations for CPS HQ and separately for the CCPs in charge of the new Areas. The attached note provides a preliminary response on the 11 recommendations for CPS HQ. The CPS supports the broad thrust of the 11 recommendations for the new CCPs and will work with them to encourage their adoption within the national framework for the CPS. As the NAO directed these recommendations to the new CCPs under the new 42 Area structure and these individuals have not yet been appointed, it would however be inappropriate to respond to them in more details at this stage.

NAO Report on the CPS
Recommendations for Crown Prosecution
Service Headquarters Preliminary response
12Ensure that any reductions in staff are targeted to parts of the CPS where scope for greater efficiency can be demonstrated, and that performance, especially in the delivery of the service at local level, is not adversely affected. Staff reductions through early retirement schemes have been targeted on National and Area HQ functions and away from Branch and caseworkers. Despite reductions in expenditure provision, Branch budgets in aggregate have been protected. Activity based costing will identify where greater efficiency can be achieved at Branch level.
13Accelerate the development of tools such as activity costing and staff profiling to assist Areas in achieving best use of staff, and encourage Areas to monitor the proportion of time which prosecutors have to spend in court, in order to highlight pressure points as they arise. The benchmarking of Area performance using activity costing will be continued although there are resource constraints on the staff numbers involved. CCPs will be encouraged to monitor the time CPS lawyers spend in court.
14Reformulate the new target for timeliness and discontinuance in terms of reducing the proportion of cases discontinued at a second court hearing or later, thus encouraging all earlier appropriate discontinuances equally, without detracting from effective consultation with the police. A new target on discontinuance before the second hearing is being introduced.
15Test the CPS's performance framework against the requirements of resource accounting, in particular the need for measurable objectives. In the context of resource accounting, the development of schedule 5 and the OPA statement will be used to test the CPS's performance framework.
16Present information for external reporting and accountability to give a true account of performance whilst at the same time ensuring that results are understandable to the lay reader. The presentation of CPS information is being reconsidered with a view to improving the presentation in the next Annual Report.
17As performance measures become more established and more prior year data are available, agree with Chief Crown Prosecutors specific performance targets and priorities for their Areas (rather than expecting only unspecified improvement), and hold them accountable. CCPs agreed some specific targets for 1997-98 and more specific targets will be agreed for 1998-99 and for future years as experience with the measures increases. CCPs will continue to be held accountable for achievement of targets.
18Assist benchmarking of local performance by profiling and grouping Areas with similar characteristics into "families", and by ensuring that Areas are able to share meaningful comparative information. The benchmarking studies in 1997 will be extended to include more Areas/Branches and will allow Areas to be grouped and to share information. A pilot project is taking place to make available to Areas direct access to the corporate information system.
19Work with particularly poorly performing Areas to identify the reasons for poor results, and encourage the best performing Area teams to identify good practice and share it with other Areas. The regular reviews with CCPs will continue to address poor performance. Best practice will be identified through benchmarking studies and disseminated to all Areas.
20Ensure that the recommendations of the internal review of complaints are implemented and that Areas use the information collected to target improvements in performance. A new complaints procedure was introduced and publicised in December 1997. A Customer Service Unit has been set up. The complaints procedure is being made available through the Internet.
21Act urgently to complete computerisation so that all Chief Crown Prosecutors and their Area teams can benefit from improved information technology support. The CPS is vigorously pursuing a PFI for the provision of IT services in future. At the same time, the CPS is working locally with the police on several related IT projects in Durham, Gloucestershire, Suffolk, etc.
22Consider the establishment of a fully independent external Inspectorate, which would enhance public confidence and bring the CPS Inspectorate into line with the inspectorates of the major criminal justice agencies (the police, prisons and the magistrates' courts). This proposal will be considered in the light of the response to the recommendations from the Glidewell Review of the structure and the operations of the CPS.

Crown Prosecution Service
23 January 1998

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