“a useful guide for the PPS in its continuing development.”

The NIO Policing and Justice Minister, Paul Goggins MP, has welcomed the report by the Criminal Justice Inspectorate NI and he has emphasised that “they confirm that the PPS is a fair and independent organisation which takes decisions free from undue influence.” The PA report points to the areas of criticism though. And it’s worth noting that the Inspectors selected “305 PPS files finalised in the three months to November 2006” to base the report on. [There a couple of specific files I’d have liked to have seen examined – Ed] CJINI press release here and the full report is here [both pdf files] How its recommendations and issues to address are taken onboard will, no doubt, be of interest to those paying attention.The report is based on the examination of 305 files

File examination

2.4 Inspectors examined 305 PPS files finalised in the three months to November 2006. The files were selected by Inspectors from lists drawn from the PPS case. in the three months to November 2006. The files were selected by Inspectors from lists drawn from the PPS case management system (CMS), and reflected as far as possible the proportion of the PPS caseload dealt with by each region (including those dealt with centrally). The sample comprised a mix of cases and outcomes including those where the PPS directed no prosecution, and cases concluded in the magistrates’ courts and Crown Court. The sample also included a range of sensitive cases, for example where the offences were motivated by race or sectarianism, domestic violence and child abuse. A breakdown of the file sample is at Appendix 3 and the key findings from the file examination are set out at Appendix 4.

From the report

Conclusions

19.1 Senior managers and staff have worked hard to develop the Public Prosecution Service of Northern Ireland. The last three years have seen a remarkable increase in staff numbers and the Service, with its staged rollout, has been in a period of almost constant change, with all the stresses and strains that brings. Nevertheless we found a committed staff who wanted to see the Service improve and be fully operational.

19.2 In the course of this inspection we have considered whether the PPS meets its stated aim of being a fair independent and effective prosecution service.

19.3 The evidence indicates that the PPS takes independent casework decisions, free from undue influence, which overall are of good quality. This needs to be complemented by recognition on the part of the PPS that an acceptance of the interdependencies between the Service and the other criminal justice agencies does not compromise that independence. Overall there was a need to develop a better working relationship with its criminal justice partners.

19.4 Similarly, our assessment is that the PPS is a fair organisation, but it could do more publicly to reassure the community of this. We have suggested actions that should be taken, for example the publishing of case outcomes and giving better explanations to victims and criminal justice partners, of the reasons why decisions are taken not to prosecute or withdraw cases, which should improve the transparency of the Service and increase public confidence.

19.5 The Service has some way to go before it is fully effective. Cases take too long to progress through the PPS system, which is compounded further by unnecessary adjournments of court hearings, leading to undue delay in the fixing of trials. The processes which underpin the decision-making are cumbersome and overly compartmentalised. This restricts the flexibility of managers to move resources to ensure backlogs are cleared and work processes efficiently.

19.6 Aspects of financial management, recruitment and retention could all be more effective. In part the position is affected by the current status of the PPS. It is important that the status of the organisation is clarified, and we have recommended that it become a fully independent department. This would assist in alleviating some of the issues we have identified and increase its standing within the criminal justice system.

19.7 The difficulties the PPS has experienced in finding suitable accommodation has impacted on the timeliness of the full implementation of the Service and affected the operational effectiveness of some of its processes, and we recognise the problems this has presented for the conclusion of the roll-out. However, it is also important to note that the Criminal Justice Review was published more than seven years ago and the pilot PPS projects began more than three years ago. Inspectors are strongly of the view that the process of rollout should be concluded as soon as possible. The opening of offices in Derry/Londonderry and Newry will be an important step in the development of relationships between the PPS and communities that might in the past have been estranged from the criminal justice system, and should serve as a focus for genuine engagement.

19.8 This inspection has shown that, despite how much has been achieved, there remains considerably more to be done. Clear direction will be needed and senior management will need to be well supported, by those with expertise in business and change management, to enable all issues to be addressed.

Recommendations

The PPS should become a department in its own right, responsible for its own budget and recruitment.

Directing lawyers should, save in exceptional circumstances set out clearly to the victim or personal representative their reasoning for directing no prosecution or withdrawing proceedings.

Directing lawyers should explain fully their reasoning to the agency in cases where they direct no prosecution or where their decision is different from that recommended by the investigator.

The Management Board should:
• review the case management processes and administrative support systems to reduce delays, improve efficiency and eliminate duplication (from receipt of the file to allocation, decision-making and issuing of the decision); and
• monitor jointly with investigating agencies the use of the RFI system and collate data to drive up performance in relation to timeliness.

The Management Board should take action to improve the quality of instructions to counsel by ensuring prosecutors:
• include an accurate summary of the case;
• identify and address the issues (including outstanding matters);
• where applicable, address the acceptability of pleas; and
• summarise for counsel the steps already taken in relation to disclosure and identify any disclosure issues remaining to be addressed.

The Management Board should ensure compliance with the PPS policy on domestic violence in all relevant cases.

The Management Board should ensure that all prosecutors;
• are trained appropriately in the disclosure provisions;
• endorse fully and sign all schedules to indicate they have reviewed all sensitive and non-sensitive unused material;
• maintain a comprehensive record of disclosure decisions on the file;
• keep separately on the file all disclosure material; and
• challenge inadequate defence statements.

The Management Board should ensure that the effectiveness of CLTs is improved, in particular that:
• the roles and responsibilities of the CLTs are clarified, including their role in the handling of general telephone calls;
• CLT processes are set out clearly;
• all CLT staff are trained in all aspects of their role;
• standard form letters should be amended to ensure defendant queries are dealt with by the relevant casework team; and
• the provision of poor quality police witness information should be addressed through CJU liaison meetings.

The Management Board should review management structures to ensure that:
• there is an appropriate balance of legal and business management skills among senior managers;
• support is made available to ADs to assist with management of people, processes, performance, finance and planning; and
• the work of the BMF is reviewed to ensure that it becomes an effective group, focusing on the right issues.

The PPS should review its regional operational structures to deliver:
• a greater sense of case ownership;
• more efficient processing of cases with a reduction in duplication of work;
• a more flexible,multi-skilled work force in a less compartmentalised environment;
• an evaluation of the number and responsibilities of administrative managers to assure their deployment is optimised; and
• improved communication channels.

The Management Board should:
• take urgent steps to increase the use of PPS prosecutors in the magistrates’ courts, and reduce reliance on counsel; and
• keep the policy of deploying administrative staff to court under ongoing review.

The Management Board should ensure that:
• they regularly receive details of staff breakdown by community background, gender and other relevant equality categories; and
• all managers lead by example and take steps to reinforce the principles of equality throughout the organisation.

The Management Board should ensure that:
• there is a significant improvement in the understanding of outstanding fees;
• a much higher proportion of fees are negotiated in advance of hearing/trials;
• establish criteria for cases which should be remunerated as a special fee case;
• the costs attached to specific cases can be easily identified;
• senior counsel are only instructed where appropriate; and
• payment of fees is timely.

The Management Board should initiate a fundamental review of the manner in which fees are calculated and paid for sessional work in the magistrates’ courts.

The Management Board should conduct a fundamental review of its processes to ensure that:
• wherever practical there is consistency across the regions;
• there is an effective means of identifying and implementing good practice;
• staff are properly trained in agreed processes;
• duplication and rework is minimised; and
• backlogs are cleared as a matter of urgency and that appropriate systems are in place to prevent recurrence.

The Management Board develops a comprehensive quality assurance programme that defines clearly the roles of Regional Assistant Directors, Senior Public Prosecutors, and the Quality Assurance section of Policy The Management Board should strengthen arrangements for performance management by:
• identifying the most appropriate measures to assess the performance of the PPS;
• analysing and evaluating data to determine performance levels and any aspects requiring remedial action; and
• ensuring performance information is disseminated widely to staff and other relevant criminal justice agencies.

Issues to address

Information about the process by which a review of prosecutorial decisions can be initiated should be made widely available to users of the criminal justice system including victims (Priority: medium).

To provide evidence of the fair approach of the PPS, the Management Board should, once the necessary mechanisms are in place, produce casework outcomes for example by community background and ethnicity (Priority: medium).

To develop the PPS profile and increase public confidence the Management Board and Assistant Directors should become more proactive in their approach to media engagement (Priority: medium).

The Management Board should ensure that counsel and PPS prosecutors endorse fully the file with the reasons for the alteration or withdrawal of charges (Priority: medium).

The Management Board should agree with the Court Service to collect and analyse reliable data relating to the proportion of magistrates’ courts late vacated, cracked and ineffective
trials, and take remedial action where necessary (Priority: medium).

The Management Board should ensure that:
• there is regular and effective monitoring of the performance of prosecution advocates in the magistrates’ courts; and
• prompt feedback is given to the prosecutor and any training needs addressed (Priority:high).

To enable prosecutors to improve the quality of their decision-making the Management Board should ensure:
• that accurate and full case reports which identify the issues in the case are completed in all appropriate cases;
• a cohesive system is in place to enable staff to learn from experience; and
• lessons to be learned are shared between the regional offices, and with the police (Priority: high).

The Management Board should review the handling of correspondence to include the implementation of the recommendations of the Efficiency Report (Priority: high).

The Management Board should agree with the Court Service to collect and analyse reliable data relating to the proportion of Crown Court late vacated, cracked and ineffective trials, and take remedial action where necessary (Priority:medium).

The Management Board should ensure that there is a structured system for monitoring the quality of Crown Court advocacy so that the PPS can be satisfied that they are obtaining objective and reliable information about the performance of counsel which is shared across the regional offices (Priority: high).

To assist in alerting prosecutors that a case comes within a sensitive category, the Management Board should ensure that its status is flagged on the paper file (Priority: high).

The PPS should identify the categories of cases which engender the greatest public concern and put in place structures to publish specific outcome data in respect of those cases (Priority: medium).

Guidance should be issued to prosecutors on when pre-direction consultation with the victim should be considered (Priority: medium).

The PPS should implement processes whereby the CLT and the victim and witnesses are informed of the grant of special measures by the court, together with the type of measure (Priority: high).

All key PPS documents should be available in other languages/formats and other documentation on request (Priority: high).

Business planning needs to be strengthened so that management and staff at all levels have a clear understanding of:
• the regional and national priorities;
• what needs to be done;
• who is responsible for delivery;
• the timescales involved; and
• the measures of success (Priority: high).

The development of more systematic training for administrative staff (Priority: high).

Managers should take steps to improve the effectiveness of internal communication by:
• reviewing the role and effectiveness of team briefing and the Staff Communication Forum;
• delivering an effective response to staff survey findings when completed; and
• cascading information more consistently and effectively (Priority: medium).

The Management Board needs to ensure that:
projected budgets take full account of all committed expenditure;
• systems are sufficiently robust to enable the PPS to give independent assurance that the budget position is accurate;
• budgets are devolved to regions following appropriate training where required; and
• business cases for additional expenditure are more thoroughly explained (Priority: medium).

The CMS change management process needs to be reinforced to harness the knowledge of users in identifying issues that need addressing (Priority: high).

Delivery of training on CMS needs to be improved. Consideration should be given to reinvigoration of IT super-user concept to deliver local support to users (Priority: high).

, , ,

  • heck

    19.3 The evidence indicates that the PPS takes independent casework decisions, free from undue influence,

    19.4 Similarly, our assessment is that the PPS is a fair organisation

    well there you have it. I guess everything is OK then.

  • BonarLaw

    “I guess everything is OK then”

    Far from it. 19.5 is telling “Cases take too long to progress through the PPS system, which is compounded further by unnecessary adjournments of court hearings, leading to undue delay in the fixing of trials”. At the Magistrates’ Court the PPS lawyers have no autonomy in disposing of any case in their list. Contrast this to the almost total autonomy enjoyed by prosecuting police Inspectors who could take a view of a case and handle it accordingly. This meant no lengthy delays and the victim being able to benefit from speedy justice. Now there are unnecessary delays to even the most minor case because the obvious plea bargan wasn’t offered at an early stage.

    Another element of this lack of autonomy is that the PPS lawyers aren’t taken very seriously by the defence- why waste time with the monkey when a telephone to the organ grinder back at PPS HQ can be more useful.