Sunday, July 1, 2012

Poor prosecutors ‘let victims down’

Poor prosecutors ‘let victims down’

September 12th 2011 6:00 AM

Crime victims and witnesses in Yorkshire are being let down because lawyers are making poor decisions and handling cases badly, an inspectors’ report on the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) reveals today.

Prosecutors in the region have failed to meet crucial standards, resulting in cases collapsing or being delayed needlessly when they come to court.

Inspectors have called for a culture change at CPS Yorkshire and Humberside after finding staff made mistakes because they were too focused on pushing prosecutions through the system quickly.

The findings are listed in a report published by HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate.

In February and March this year, the inspectorate assessed the overall governance of the region’s service, its complex casework unit, and the decisions and efficiency shown in the handling of cases in West and South Yorkshire.

The most serious and complicated matters were generally handled well with good results, but inspectors found that casework in other areas was poor.

Barely more than a quarter of the cases inspected were progressing well and, of the court hearings in West Yorkshire which collapsed or were adjourned, more than 60 per cent could have been avoided.

Almost all advocates were as good as expected or better, but there was “significant room for improvement” in the way unused material in cases was handled in West Yorkshire.

Moving prosecutions through the system as quickly as possible meant weak cases were neither made stronger nor discontinued until a late stage, wasting time and resources and leading to poor success rates.

“The group needs to change the culture to focus on quality and getting it right first time,” the report states.

Although some “pockets of good work” were discovered, inspectors found victims and witnesses were “not being given consistently the level of service they deserve”.

Budget controls were sound in the main, but a review of 10 crown court cases in South Yorkshire revealed a significant amount of fees were unnecessarily.

HM Chief Inspector Michael Fuller said: “The area has rightly identified the need to improve the quality of decision-making across many aspects of its casework in West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire.

“Good performance management at the area level needs to be replicated at the individual level to ensure high quality and timely decision-making at all stages.

“I am pleased to find strong governance at the senior management level which is reflected in sound financial controls and effective communications.”

Yorkshire’s Chief Crown Prosecutor, Martin Goldman, accepted the report was an honest and accurate assessment of the service’s performance in February and March, but he insisted “much has changed since then”.

“Whilst I recognise the need to improve,” he said, “it’s also important to recognise that many of our outcomes are higher than the national average.

“We’ve now introduced a number of measures to improve quality and efficiency. We’re challenging quality at every opportunity.We have introduced rigorous checks and feedback to all staff to ensure we learn lessons and improve wherever possible.”

Mr Goldman added that money had been saved by bringing together services from across the region to work as a single entity.

“We’ve centralised some key functions including our storage facility, finance and performance and we’ve merged the two complex casework units,” he said.

“We’re also working closely with the police and the courts to identify and remove any inefficiency from our joint systems.”

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