Report hits out at 'failing' lawyers

VICTIMS and witnesses of crime in South Yorkshire are being let down because lawyers are making poor decisions and handling cases badly, an inspectors’ report has found.

But South Yorkshire’s Crown Prosecution Service has pledged to ensure “the best possible outcome for victims and witnesses of crime” after the report warned improvements needed to be made.

According to the findings, prosecutors in the Yorkshire and Humber region failed to meet crucial standards, resulting in cases collapsing or being delayed needlessly when they come to court.

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Inspectors called for a culture change at CPS Yorkshire and Humberside after finding staff made mistakes because they were too focused on pushing prosecutions through the system quickly.

The findings are listed in a report published this week by HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate.

In February and March this year, the inspectorate assessed the overall governance of the region’s service, its complex casework unit and the decisions and efficiency shown in the handling of cases in South and West Yorkshire.

The most serious and complicated matters were generally handled well with good results, but inspectors found that casework in other areas was poor.

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Budget controls were sound in the main, but a review of ten crown court cases in South Yorkshire revealed a significant amount of fees were unnecessary.

It also highlighted that four Chief Crown Prosecutors in South Yorkshire since 2007 had led to a “lack of stability at senior management level for a number of years.”

The report found barely more than a quarter of the cases inspected were progressing well.

Moving prosecutions through the system as quickly as possible meant weak cases were neither made stronger nor discontinued until a late stage, wasting time and resources and leading to poor success rates.

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“The group needs to change the culture to focus on quality and getting it right first time,” the report said.

Although some “pockets of good work” were discovered, inspectors found victims and witnesses were “not being given consistently the level of service they deserve.”

Chief Inspector Michael Fuller said: “The area has rightly identified the need to improve the quality of decision-making across many aspects of its casework in South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire.

“Good performance management at the area level needs to be replicated at the individual level to ensure high quality and timely decision-making at all stages.

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“I am pleased to find strong governance at the senior management level which is reflected in sound financial controls and effective communications.”

Yorkshire’s Chief Crown Prosecutor, Martin Goldman, accepted the report was an honest and accurate assessment of the service’s performance in February and March, but he insisted “much has changed since then.”

“Whilst I recognise the need to improve, it’s also important to recognise that many of our outcomes are higher than the national average,” he said.