PPS delivering high quality legal decision-making but more investment in training needed to deliver

Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) has today (26 April 2013) published its inspection of the corporate governance arrangements in the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland (PPS).

The inspection assessed how the organisation was directed and controlled, how it governed its activities and managed its performance and risk.
"Since the PPS was formally established in 2005 it has made good headway and previous CJI inspection work has charted substantial progress in a number of areas," said Brendan McGuigan, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
"Throughout this time the PPS delivered a very high quality of legal decision-making which is a testimony to the professionalism and commitment of its staff. The organisation has responded well to the challenges of an increased workload and the development of a regional structure, whilst discharging its core business of making prosecutorial decisions and actioning prosecutions.
"The overall assessment of the inspection team was that the governance structures and associated processes within the PPS provide a sound governance framework to introduce further improvements," said the Chief Inspector.
However Mr McGuigan noted that in the last seven years, the challenges facing the PSS had become increasingly business and efficiency related.
"The pressure to drive improvements in service delivery, meet the changing needs of stakeholders and to reduce costs has placed new demands on the resources and resourcefulness of the PPS which requires a fresh approach," said the Chief Inspector.
"Inspectors found that Prosecutors received insufficient management training and not enough was being done to transition the tools of business to the legal environment. Therefore the PPS needs to invest more in training its senior managers to improve service delivery and to secure improved outcomes."
Mr McGuigan indicated that the PPS also needed to focus its attention on service delivery and holding managers to account for improved outcomes rather than measuring activities, volumes of casework and the management of inputs.
He continued:"Inspectors would urge the PPS to consider, reflect and learn from the experiences of other bodies such as the Crown Prosecution Service in Wales. It previously faced similar challenges, but in the past two years, has delivered significant improvement through the extensive use of performance management information, internal and external benchmarks and greater accountability from operational managers."
Business plans he said also needed to become more outcome focused.
As part of this review CJI Inspectors worked in partnership with Inspectors from Her Majesty's Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate to analyse the quality of decision-making and advocacy skills within the PPS.
"The review indicated that of 124 case files examined, 96% complied with the Prosecutors’ Code which compares favourably with the 93% average achieved in England and Wales," said Mr McGuigan.
"The inspection rated the PPS Prosecutors as competent, although there were some examples where performance could be improved. Although Prosecutor performance was mostly satisfactory, Inspectors concluded that the PPS would benefit from introducing a more comprehensive and reliable assessment process.
"To further develop and improve the advocacy expertise within the PPS the Director of Public Prosecutions has made it clear that he is keen to increase the number of Higher Court Advocates in the PPS and Inspectors would welcome the launch of a clear strategy to implement this, " he said.
In conclusion, Mr McGuigan said: "The PPS has emerged from a major development process as a body capable of delivering the legal elements of its services to a high standard but it now faces a series of challenges that require a different approach.
“We would encourage the organisation to invest in the training of its senior managers to improve service delivery and outcomes and to learn from the experience of prosecution services in England and Wales which have had to face similar challenges to those now confronting the PPS.
"This report makes three strategic recommendations and identifies 11 areas for improvement, which if fully implemented will help the PPS take that next step towards its ultimate aim of providing a first class prosecution service," he concluded.