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Report finds CPS still failing on disclosure

(Posted on 10/01/20)


The latest report from the CPS watchdog, HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI), has found its baseline performance to be ‘very low, and although there was progress there is still a long way to go before an acceptable standard is reached’.

Over half the criminal cases sampled showed the CPS’s charging advice failing to properly deal with unused material, whilst only a sixth of cases of sub-standard police performance were identified by prosecutors.

“The challenge facing the CPS and police is considerable,” said Kevin McGinty, HM chief inspector of the CPS. “The CPS has been struggling to deal with its caseload without having the numbers of lawyers needed to do it. Similarly, the police have struggled with the impact of stretched resources and the lack of understanding of disclosure obligations by inexperienced police officers.”

“If this report had given the equivalent of an Ofsted grading for a school it would still, tragically, not move out of the bottom ranked ‘failing’,” Caroline Goodwin QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association declared. “Criminal defence barristers are still not paid for the many hours spent examining unused material…It is this task, within what the inspectorate reveals as a still failing system due to starved and inadequately trained professionals at both police and CPS, that is often the difference between liberty and imprisonment.”

The report states that “over the past few years HMCPSI has… found fault with the CPS and identified areas where it could improve… The quality of case preparation, and thus the handling of disclosure, is also often undermined by under-resourced CPS staff who are struggling to cope with the sheer volume of work … Almost without exception, those faults have been caused or exacerbated by the problem of too few legal staff being spread too thinly over a volume of work of ever-increasing complexity.”

“As the report acknowledges, there has been further investment in the CPS,” commented Amanda Pinto QC, chair of the Bar Council. “Despite help from the bar and solicitors to improve disclosure in all cases from the smallest to the most complex, there is more to do. There still needs to be more investment in people, training and resources in the police, the CPS and the criminal justice system generally, to tackle the pervasive problems with disclosure.

“We must not forget that victims of crime and those accused of committing crimes can be the most affected by disclosure failures, and the fact that in less than 50% of the cases inspected was disclosure done properly is not reassuring to the public.”

DPP Max Hill QC defended the CPS’ record: “Working with the police, we have left no stone unturned in the last two years analysing both investigations and prosecutions to see where changes are needed. It is encouraging to see progress is being made but, clearly, much work is still to be done if we are to provide the service the public rightly expect.

“We have always been clear that these significant cultural changes will not happen overnight – but as we reach this two-year milestone, our commitment to get this right remains as strong as ever. Thanks to an £85m investment in CPS, we are also starting to recruit more prosecutors to futureproof our work around disclosure and fully meet the challenges we face.”