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CPS South East needs a more ‘business-like’ approach in a volatile landscape

HMCPSI attributes drastic deterioration to poor financial account management

22 July 2015

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Over the last three years the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) South East has lost a top spot position as one of the highest performing areas of the CPS.

Tumbling to its lowest point in the last two quarters of 2013/14, performance has deteriorated so drastically that the area now ranks almost bottom in CPS tables.

Against a background of staffing reductions, budgetary pressure, increasing demands of criminal justice projects such as digitisation, and a challenging criminal justice landscape, staff morale plummeted, although by October last year the Civil Service staff survey did show a 10 per cent increase in levels of staff engagement.

In addition, in its key findings, HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) attributed the deterioration to poor financial account management. The report also identified the break between outgoing and incoming chief crown prosecutors (CCP) as delaying 'essential re-structuring', which led to uncertainty among staff and external stakeholders.

HMCPSI chief inspector Kevin McGinty acknowledged that the review took place against a background of change for CPS South East. The report said that, from the outset, the chief crown prosecutor faced significant challenges; the area's estate had to be rationalised, staff had to be cut, and an inclusive corporate style of leadership was required to change the area's culture from separate local units to one South East area, with consistent practices and common aims.

However, McGinty said the area had done a lot to improve strategic relationships with some of its key stakeholders in the region.

'Particularly,' he continued, 'several Crown Court judges and also local benches of magistrates reported that communications were good and the chief crown prosecutor was recognised as an effective contributor to local criminal justice partnerships.'

In June, SJ reported that a similar inspection into the CPS North East found a drop in performance in the magistrates' courts, with fewer successful outcomes and contested cases being reviewed far too close to the trial date.

The report says the CPS South East needs a more 'business-like approach' to how it operates in order to see real improvements. That, plus a more 'collaborative style of engagement' between police forces in the area would benefit the CPS, but requires commitment, with all regional partners in a volatile landscape.

Esther Nimmo is an editorial assistant at Solicitors Journal @EstherNimmo

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