Report slams Crown Prosecution Service lawyers over low conviction rates

Dorset Echo: Deputy Chief Constable for Dorset Police James Vaughan Deputy Chief Constable for Dorset Police James Vaughan

A REPORT into the Crown Prosecution Service in Dorset (CPS Dorset) has revealed that almost 20 per cent of criminal cases are unsuccessful – and poor communication between police and lawyers and over-cautious lawyers are to blame.

The Crown Prosecution Service, which is funded by the taxpayer, is responsible for prosecuting people in England and Wales charged with a criminal offence.

Magistrates in Dorset dealt with a total of 6,425 cases between April 2012 and April 2013.

The report shows a total of 1,130 cases were unsuccessful, meaning nobody pleaded guilty or was convicted, with 929 of these cases discontinued by the prosecution, a total of 17.6 per cent.

This is four per cent higher than the national average.

The report stated nearly a third of all cases involving offences against a person, 32.2 per cent, were unsuccessful and just over a quarter, 26.1 per cent, of motoring offences were unsuccessful.

Both of these were higher than the national average.

It also revealed that some 60 cases that involved violence against women were unsuccessful, 26.9 per cent of total cases of this type.

Inspectors found a number of reasons why cases were not resulting in convictions.

They found lawyers acting on behalf of the CPS were discontinuing the cases but not telling the police what was needed to secure a conviction and that lawyers in Dorset were making poor decisions and were being over cautious and discontinuing cases before trial.

HM Chief Inspector Michael Fuller QPM, who commissioned the report into CPS Dorset, said: “This report has highlighted a number of significant issues in the CPS unit in Dorset, not least an over-cautious culture and an inadequate level of scrutiny. “My inspectors remain concerned that the weak decision-making of some lawyers will become diluted among the wider Area caseload.

“I hope that the CPS will act quickly on the recommendations in the report and that improvements are soon evident.”

For the figures in Dorset to improve, the report suggested feedback should be provided to the police on police charge cases that are discontinued, identifying reasons for the discontinuance.

It also stated the area needed to ensure there was effective and regular monitoring by senior management of the discontinued cases and that lessons learned and trends identified could be acted upon, and that the area should consider reinstating prosecution team performance management meetings (PTPM) with the police.

In response to the report, James Vaughan, Deputy Chief Constable for Dorset Police, pictured, said: “Dorset Police will work alongside partners through the Local Criminal Justice Board to consider and help address the points raised in the latest report.

“As chairman, I can reassure the public that the board is actively focused on improving our service across the whole criminal justice system. We have recently agreed a new multi-agency approach to more quickly identify and improve any performance issues.”

Kate Brown, chief crown prosecutor for the CPS in Wessex, said the CPS had already started to implement some of the recommendations in the report following CPS Wessex’s restructuring which finished in November.

Ms Brown said: “We welcome the recommendations of Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) into unsuccessful outcomes in magistrates’ court cases in Dorset.

“It is very important for us to understand why we have unsuccessful outcomes.

“Last year, we introduced Quarterly Performance Review meetings for each unit during which, unsuccessful outcomes are scrutinised, trends are identified and actions are taken.”

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