Watchdog Assesses CPS Efforts to Improve Magistrates Courts

Findings have been announced following a watchdog review of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and its role in improving the justice system through the transforming summary justice initiative. The Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate gave mixed opinions on the CPS’ contribution to the improvement of magistrates’ court operations, with the most significant criticism being that prosecutors were failing to properly review the cases and relevant case files ahead of many cases’ first court hearing.

The Inspectorate reached this conclusion following a review of the Crown Prosecution Service’s recent work to make changes to magistrates’ courts. Through the work in question, the CPS has been aiming to make significant improvements to the system of magistrates courts in England and Wales. This includes efforts to minimise wait times by reducing delays, and also to reduce the number of hearings that each individual case requires. Furthermore, there has also been a new requirement introduced, making it necessary for the CPS to review every case before it progresses to the courtroom for its first hearing.

In order to review these efforts, the CPS Inspectorate reviewed 271 files relating to relevant cases, as well as attending 19 sittings in magistrates courts for direct observation. There were many positives identified in the subsequent report, with the inspectorate judging that the CPS was making a positive contribution to efforts to improve the UK justice system and stating that the charging decisions made by the service were sound.

However, there are also criticisms made of the CPS, and the key one was prosecutors’ “failure to review cases for the first hearing in too many instances.” Overall, the watchdog found that over a third of all cases – 37.7% in total – showed no evidence that any review had been carried out ahead of the beginning of court hearings. “Both the quality and the timeliness of the initial review by the CPS needs to be improved,” the Inspectorate concluded.

This was not the only aspect of preparation for the first court hearing that the Inspectorate judged the CPS to be failing on. Following the review, the CPS was also criticised for not managing to “engage effectively” with legal professionals acting for the defence ahead of court hearings in a great many cases.

A spokesperson for he CPS welcomed the report’s recognition that the service was “making a positive early contribution” to efforts to reform the operation of magistrates courts, and said that steps were being taken to ensure that cases were properly reviewed before reaching the courtroom.

The spokesperson said: “We are putting in place measures to ensure we always record the review of our files.” She went on to explain that the service had “introduced an app for prosecutors which assists and prompts them to record a review electronically” and that sample checks of cases were also being carried out to ensure records are being properly made.

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