'Fundamental reset' needed to improve quality of prosecution files.


CJI Chief Inspector Jacqui Durkin has called for a ‘fundamental reset’ within the Police Service of Northern Ireland (Police Service) and the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland (PPS) to improve their file quality and speed of case progression.

Ms Durkin said improvements in key areas needed to be delivered by both organisations following the publication of CJI’s latest inspection of file quality, disclosure and case progression and trial recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic. 
“The foundations of a fair and effective criminal justice system are quality police investigations, robust prosecutorial decisions and effective disclosure.  Getting this right can reduce delay and ensure a more efficient use of resources throughout the criminal justice system to deliver better outcomes for victims and witnesses,” said Ms Durkin.
“The swifter conclusion of court cases can mean convicted defendants feel the consequences of their offending behaviour sooner and criminal justice organisations can meaningfully engage with them earlier to prevent further offending,” she said.
“We found that despite agreed quality standards being set for the preparation of prosecution files by the Police Service and PPS as part of the Working Together project, a review of 100 police and 100 prosecution case files revealed the quality of criminal case files being prepared to be poor. 
"In the police file review, Inspectors found 54% of Crown Court files did not meet or only partially met the file build standards, with this figure falling to 44% of the Magistrates’ Court files we examined.  When looking at the PPS files, 41% of Magistrates’ Court and 54% of Crown Court Cases did not meet or only partially met the required standard. Reassuringly, the PPS file sample showed that 96% of cases fully met the test for prosecutorial decisions,” said Ms Durkin.
The Chief Inspector also expressed concern that police case files were taking too long to prepare and further action was needed to improve the progression of cases at Court and the handling of disclosure, where material is provided that may assist the defence or undermine a prosecution case, was found to be poor in both the police and prosecution files examined.
“This inspection shows each organisation needs to focus on getting the basics right at each stage of case progression.  Quality needs built in at every stage for each Police Officer and Prosecutor involved in a case so better outcomes can be delivered for victims and witnesses.
“The Police Service and the PPS need to understand their respective organisational needs and deliver against them. They need to show a real commitment to partnership working and a team approach to file quality, disclosure and case progression,” said Ms Durkin.
Inspectors have made one strategic and one new operational recommendation for improvement as a result of the inspection.  Six recommendations previously made in CJI’s 2015 inspection of File Quality and Disclosure have also been repeated.
A copy of the inspection report can be found in the Inspection Reports page of our website along with our key facts document.  A short video message from the Chief Inspector and Lead Inspector David MacAnulty outlining the inspection findings and recommendations is available to view on our YouTube channel.