Victims of crime are being made to wait for justice as prosecutors are failing to make swift decisions in almost half the cases handed to them by police, an audit has found.
A review of the Crown Prosecution Service discovered delays in deciding whether to charge suspects, while lawyers are also failing to take a “firm grip” of the majority of cases they manage.
Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate found prosecutors are correctly charging suspects in 97 per cent of cases, up from 91 per cent at the last audit five years ago.
But the CPS has been told to speed up its decision-making processes and improve the handling of cases from the beginning.
“There has been a marked improvement in getting the charge right at the outset, which is important, but there is significant room for improvement in respect of the quality of prosecutors’ legal analysis and the timeliness of their decision making”, said HM Chief Inspector Kevin McGinty.
Director of Public Prosecutions Max Hill QC (PA)
Commenting on the report, James Mulholland QC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, said “inadequate funding” of the CPS by government was to blame.
“These sorts of egregious delays and failures in quality standards are a poor reflection on our criminal justice system and, sadly, indicative of a decade of cuts which has taken about a billion pounds from the CPS budget,” he said.
In 2016, the CPS began changing the way it reaches charging decisions, handing full control of bail cases to local CPS Area teams while a central division – CPS Direct – dealt with cases where suspects were in custody.
The inspection found timely decisions – within deadlines of up to 28 days – were made in 56 per cent of cases across the CPS. But in an evaluation of CPS Areas the rate was 48 per cent, down from 64 per cent at the 2015 audit.
The inspectors also discovered prosecutors added “little or no value” and had a “poor grip” in a fifth of cases, while just 45 per cent of CPS charging decisions fully met the organisation’s expectations on case analysis and strategy for trial.
“In our judgment, the public can have confidence that the CPS is making correct decisions to charge or to take no further action”, the report concluded. “The public can have less confidence at present that those decisions are being adequately thought through, that prosecutors are taking a firm grip of a case at an early stage and that they are adding the necessary legal value.”
Police forces also came under fire in the report for the quality of case files, with missing CCTV evidence and key statements identified as “major frustrations”.
A CPS spokesman said: “We are encouraged the HMCPSI found we are charging our cases correctly in 97 per cent of cases, but know there still remains room for improvement.
“We have accepted all the report’s recommendations including reviewing our internal quality assurance and policy guidance material to streamline information and make sure it is clear and concise; putting mandatory training in place and working on sharing best case work practice.”