A national initiative introduced in 2008 by the Crown Prosecution Service and the Association of Chief Police Officers to cut the amount of paperwork in prosecution files when dealing with straightforward cases can reduce the time burden on police forces, without diminishing the effectiveness of the magistrates’ courts. But a National Audit office report has found that there are wide differences between individual police forces in how far they are complying with the guidance and lack of awareness among police officers about what to include in prosecution files.
Alongside an estimated £10 million a year which the initiative could save police forces, it has the potential to reduce the size of prosecution files without increasing adjournments in court or reducing the number of guilty pleas. The NAO review has found that the Streamlined Process has not yet achieved its potential value for money, but has not had a negative impact on the progression of cases through the magistrates’ courts.
The project management of the national roll-out of the initiative, known as the Streamlined Process, was flawed, leading to variations in compliance between police forces. Almost 80 per cent of police files examined by the NAO in partnership with Her Majesty’s inspectorates of Constabulary and the Crown Prosecution Service contained a disproportionate amount of paperwork and more than half of the files reviewed did not summarize key evidence to a high enough standard.
Police officers interviewed by the NAO did not generally know which documents the Streamlined Process guidance recommended to include or exclude in prosecution files. Crown Prosecution Service staff also reportedly requested more evidence from police officers on some cases than the guidance recommended. The process was rolled out nationally before its pilots were completed and evaluated.
Among the recommendations in today’s report are that, when government departments design initiatives, they must bear in mind the powers of the national and local bodies that will be driving the initiatives forward and the relationships between those bodies.