The recent publication of the findings of phase one of the Criminal Justice Joint Inspection by His Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate and His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary Fire and Rescue Services into joint case building by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has shone a spotlight on many of the technological and procedural inadequacies officers are facing, which the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) has been campaigning to address.
Most notable is the support the findings give to the #SimplifyDG6 campaign. The CPS Disclosure Guidance 2020 (known as DG6 in policing parlance) came into effect on 1 January 2021. The impact was to ‘front load’ case preparation and increase the volume of information available to the prosecutor from which a charging decision could be made. An unintended consequence of this has been the increase in work for the police to carry out before sending a file to the CPS.
The latest findings have spot lit the reality of excessive workload, especially as it points out, on such an inexperienced workforce that both the CPS and the different police forces are faced with. The report highlights that this considerable workload, one that is often seen as unnecessarily burdensome by officers, especially in cases that result in CPS decision not to charge, causes confusion and friction between the CPS and police forces. The findings point out that “a lack of a clear understanding about redaction, and disagreements about what needs to remain and what should be redacted, appear to be commonplace”.
Reacting to the findings, National Chair Steve Hartshorn said, “It is clear that there is widespread confusion about which information is required to be redacted in each case and that the police view much of the work to redact as a waste of resources and time.
“It is also disappointing that the report fails to mention that the redaction concerns caused by DG6 can be addressed under Annex D in certain cases by an Inspector or a higher-ranking officer. This would ease the burden on sufficient workloads to the extent that this omission is a significant failure.”
Alongside such process focused issues, the findings highlight significant failings with the IT systems that forces and the CPS use. As is laid bare, “IT systems in the police and CPS were not originally intended or designed to be used for digital case transfer and have had to be adapted for this purpose… CPS areas that work in partnership with more than one force often have to manage more than one IT system interface”. The consequence of such issues is increased frustration, often tense relations between the CPS and their police colleagues and our members struggling to navigate and use effectively these non user-friendly systems.
Where there is communication between the CPS and officers the findings reveal a willingness to work together and overcome obstacles that would otherwise hinder their work. This is tempered by the reality that this occurs in a minority of cases, and the norm is for little personal contact between police officer and prosecutor, either by phone, face-to-face or virtually.
The report found that barriers to better communication included not having the necessary information to get in touch with the officer in the case and/or the CPS prosecutor; for example, not having basic information such as phone numbers and/or email addresses. The report also found that even where contact details were provided, the opportunity to make contact was rarely taken though in the “inspector’s judgement, such contact may have improved the quality of file building or reduced the number of consultations for charging advice on the case”.
Mr Hartshorn added: “It is unacceptable that in 2024 the existing two-way interface (TWIF) between the police and CPS, as identified by the report, cannot process anything over 1MB in size. Anything larger must be broken down into smaller files and sent in parts, or even sent independently of the TWIF via email. Often files that fail in the TWIF must be recreated before being resent.
“The burden placed on officers, the poor communication it creates and the opportunity for human error this exposes is also unacceptable. The report mentions that work is underway to increase this data limit to 4MB but given the direction of digital progression it is by no means given a sufficient solution, a result of which will be members adapting and making-do once again with inadequate IT systems. The opportunity to remedy this for the long term cannot be missed.”
Other failings that the findings highlight is that the CPS, as a single body, uses just one IT system, but the 43 forces in England and Wales all have their own systems which they must independently integrate with the CPS system. This demands different file naming protocols across different forces to be able to send information correctly – failure to get this right results in bounce backs in which data is jumbled and illegible, which in turn contributes to frustration and poor communication between the police and the CPS.
The findings of the report are a clarion call to the Government to urgently address issues surrounding redaction obligations faced by officers, support our #SimplifyDG6 campaign, and provide sufficient investment to allow for IT systems to be updated uniformly.