Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Posts Tagged ‘inspectorates

Impact of Covid-19 on the criminal justice system: the view of the Criminal Justice Inspectorates

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There are 4 Inspectorates which have statutory power to keep different parts of the criminal justice system under review: prosecution, police, prisons, and probation. Covid-19 has impacted all aspects of the system.

While the inspectorates have on many occasions worked with each other (on some occasions with other agencies outside the criminal justice system), it is rare for all 4 of the criminal justice inspectorates to come together to write a joint report on a single issue. The impact of Covid-19 on the criminal justice system has been the trigger for their latest report, Impact of the pandemic on the criminal justice system, which was published on 19 January 2021.

As the press release to the report makes clear, each of the Inspectorates has been examining the impact of Covid-19 on their individual parts of the system. They have already published or will soon be publishing their own individual resports on the impact of the virus.

But the Chief Inspectors are obviously extremely concerned about the enormous stresses being placed throughout the criminal justice system – not all deriving from the pandemic, but to which the pandemic has added new dimensions.

In their joint report, the Chief Inspectors draw together common issues which are discussed in each of their studies. They spell out how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the work of the police, prosecutors, prisons, probation and youth offending teams.  They point to difficulties and lengthy waits at all stages of the criminal justice process observing that delays “benefit no one and risk damage to many”.

While the Chief Inspectors were able to praise some positive initiatives that had been taken during the Covid-19 pandemic, including the acceleration of digital working, and the commitment of staff, other areas were of more concern. They included the lack of education provision in custody and in the community for young people and the highly restrictive regimes imposed on a majority of prisoners which have continued for many months without respite, impacting negatively on their physical, emotional and psychological wellbeing and also more generally on prospects for effective rehabilitation.

In the Chief Inspectors’ view, the greatest risk to criminal justice comes from the “unprecedented and very serious” backlogs in courts. The number of ongoing cases in Crown Courts was 44 per cent higher in December 2020 compared to February of the same year. Latest figures show more than 53,000 cases are waiting to come before Crown Courts. Some of these cases have been scheduled for 2022. Despite additional funding, the continuing impact of Covid-19 is likely cause further delays.

A particular source of frustration are cases which have been listed for trial but are then cancelled and postponed, all adding to the stress of victims as well as of the accused.

The Joint Report has been used as the basis for a meeting with the Justice Select Committee which is very concerned about the impact of Covid-19 on the Justice system and indeed reported on the issue in October 2020.

The evidence in this report clearly demonstrates the potential importance of the proposed Royal Commission on the Criminal Justice system. The delay in establishing this, which I have criticised before, is a real source of frustration for all those who want to see major improvements in the operation and effectiveness of the Criminal Justice system.

Details of the Joint Report can be found at https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/cjji/inspections/impact-of-the-pandemic-on-the-criminal-justice-system/

The evidence of the Chief Inspectors to the Justice Committee is at https://committees.parliament.uk/committee/102/justice-committee/news/138547/committee-gets-early-sight-of-criminal-justice-system-report/

Making it Fair: The Disclosure of Unused Material in Volume Crown Court Cases

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In July 2017,  HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate and HM Inspectorate for Constabulary published a joint report on the disclosure of unused evidence. Based on the analysis of a number of sets of court papers, the report reveals very poor compliance with the relevant rules.

The report states: “Disclosure is one of the cornerstones of the criminal justice system and disclosure of unused material is a key component of the investigative and prosecution process. …Every unused item that is retained by police and considered relevant to an investigation should be reviewed to see whether it is capable of undermining the prosecution case or assisting the defence case. If either factor applies it must be disclosed to the defence.’

This inspection by HMCPSI and HMIC identified a number of issues which are contributing to widespread failures across the board by both police and prosecutors.

  • Police scheduling (the process of recording details of sensitive and non-sensitive material) is poor and this, in turn, is not being challenged by prosecutors.
  • Police are routinely failing to comply with guidance and requirements when completing and recording data, such as the non-sensitive disclosure schedule (known as MG6C).
  • The College of Policing is supposed to provide training on disclosure. [But] Many officers admitted they lacked confidence in their role and responsibilities as disclosure officer.
  • Prosecutors are expected to reject substandard schedules and there was little evidence of such challenge occurring, with a culture of acceptance prevailing.
  • There was also poor decision-making by prosecutors on the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act (CPIA) test for disclosure. In 54% of cases prosecutors simply endorsed schedules without recording their reasoning.
  • There were further failings in maintaining a complete audit trail of actions and decisions setting out the prosecution disclosure process.
  • There was poor supervision of standards, although where police forces have introduced quality control mechanisms this was found to improve the quality of data.
  • The exchange of information and documents between the police and CPS is often hindered rather than helped by technology, with a number of police systems presenting problems.

The report set out a strict timetable for change.

Immediately:

all disclosure issues relating to unused material to be identified at the charging stage.

Within six months:

the CPS to comply with the Attorney General’s Guidelines on Disclosure, with an allocated prosecutor reviewing every defence statement and giving prompt guidance to police;

police forces to improve supervision of unused material;

CPS Compliance and Assurance Team to begin dip sampling;

all police forces to establish role of dedicated disclosure champion of senior rank;

a system of sharing information between CPS Areas and Headquarters to monitor performance;

CPS and police to develop effective communications processes.

Within 12 months:

the College of Policing to introduce a disclosure training package;

the CPS and police to review digital case management systems.

The full report is available at http://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/cjji/inspections/making-it-fair-the-disclosure-of-unused-material-in-volume-crown-court-cases/

Written by lwtmp

November 6, 2017 at 3:00 pm