Too many cases in former unit of Northamptonshire are not resulting in convictions a report by Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) reveals today.
Inspectors said this affected the willingness of victims and witnesses to attend a trial and “has led to a number of unsuccessful cases in Northamptonshire owing to key victims or witnesses no longer supporting the case”.
In 2012-13 it took on average of more than 123 days for a case to progress from charge to finalisation. The national average was over 86 days which meant that Northamptonshire was ranked 40th out of the 42 CPS units.
Chief Inspector Michael Fuller QPM said: “This report identified the urgent need for the CPS in Northamptonshire to work with the courts to reduce delays in progressing cases.
“Victims and witnesses should be at the heart of everything CPS does and they must work hard with outside agencies to ensure they are given all possible support.
“If the performance is to improve Northamptonshire need to ensure they progress cases swiftly and efficiently to a successful conclusion.”
Inspectors looked into “unsuccessful outcomes” in magistrates’ courts in Northamptonshire, where the accused neither pleads guilty or is convicted.
The report found that the Northamptonshire unit, which has been subsumed by an East Midlands regional unit, needed to work more closely with the courts to reduce the delay and number of hearings in progressing cases.
The inspectors said there was an issue with the length of time it takes from charge to the conclusion of a case.
HMCPSI also identified that the unit’s prosecutors needed to be more proactive in court when progressing cases at first hearing so that delays are kept to a minimum.
The report made the following recommendations:
-The CPS needs to review with its partner agencies the contact with and support given to victims and witnesses
-The CPS needs to work with HM Courts & Tribunals Service to minimise delays in listing cases for trial
-There should be a review of the allocation of lawyers between initial review and trial review teams to ensure the optimum balance is obtained.
Responding to the criticism, the CPS said that, at the time HMCPSI conducted its review, which was in 2013, CPS East Midlands had already identified that unsuccessful outcomes in magistrates’ court cases in Northamptonshire needed to be addressed.
Performance in the Crown Court “was and indeed remains strong with a conviction rate well above the national average”, it said.
Steve Chappell, Chief Crown Prosecutor, CPS East Midlands said: “I am extremely grateful to HM CPS Inspectorate for their careful consideration in this report and we welcome their recommendations.
“Work had already commenced on the latter two recommendations in 2013.
“The results of this work are now bearing fruit. We have implemented changes to the way we work, asking some of our lawyers to review files earlier in the court process.
“This change in our approach has been supported by Northamptonshire Police. As a result, the proportion of early guilty pleas at
first hearing in the magistrates’ court has increased from 63.4 per cent in the first quarter of 2013/14 to 72.3 per cent in the last quarter of 2013/14.”
Mr Chappell said the work the CPS had undertaken with HMCTS had had a positive impact on the lead in time for trials and “victims and witnesses will benefit from this approach”.
Witnesses will be advised earlier in the process as to whether they are required to give evidence and the delays in listing cases for trial will be reduced, he claimed.
Mr Chappell addedd: “We have good working relationships with our criminal justice partners in Northamptonshire and have already signalled our willingness to work with them to review the support given to victims and witnesses.
“We will improve the service we provide to victims and witnesses when we launch our Victim Liaison Unit in June. This unit will offer a more specialist and bespoke service those who require support and assistance from the CPS.
“While I am satisfied that much has been achieved in the last year in Northamptonshire and the East Midlands as a whole and that this is reflected in the recent improvement in our performance, neither I nor any member of staff in CPS East Midlands is complacent.
“I can offer my personal guarantee as Chief Crown Prosecutor that we will work hard to continue to improve the service we provide to the public in Northamptonshire.”