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Give some charging decisions to high performing forces says review

This review, announced in August 2022, set about looking at productivity in every aspect of policing

The NPCC and CPS should run a pilot giving some additional charging decisions to high performing police forces, the Productivity Review has recommended.

This review, announced in August 2022, set about looking at productivity in every aspect of policing. An accompanying report published on Monday has made 26 recommendations relating to a number of areas, including streamlining criminal justice processes and better utilising the workforce.

The review was originally led by former Met deputy commissioner Sir Stephen House, who stepped back earlier this year after being referred to the IOPC.

Former Kent chief constable Alan Pughsley, originally an advisor, has taken the reigns since then.

One of the review's key focuses is on improving the timeliness of charging decisions. According to Home Office data on crime outcomes referenced therein, the average time between the offence and the charge/summons has increased from 14 days in 2016 to 44 days in 2023.

Delays on both the policing and CPS side have influenced this. The review said that forces must improve the quality of what they send to the CPS, highlighting that in 2022/23 40.7% of files were not accepted at first triage - causing a ping-pong effect.

Also highlighted was the fact that the CPS isn't consistently achieving its aim of making charging decisions within 28 days. According to its annual report for 2022/23, the CPS is only meeting this target 75.5% of the time.

Both inefficiencies are causing delays, prompting the review to explore the 'scope for police charging decisions' - a long-time ask of some chief constables.

The review revealed that the NPCC is seeking to pilot some additional charging decisions being transferred from the CPS, specifically cases where there is an anticipated guilty plea to Magistrates' court offences.

It has recommended that both bodies run a pilot which gives high performing forces the ability to authorise charging decisions in relevant cases. 

The review also looked at the requirements associated with pre-charge files, identifying three in particular that were each introduced after the revised code of practice to the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996, the Director’s Guidance on Charging and the AG's Guidelines on Disclosure came into effect on December 31, 2020.

Firstly, the introduction of the Investigation Management Document means police have to complete a 17-part form for almost all pre-charge files.

Secondly, it's now a requirement to provide and redact all material that falls under the 'rebuttable presumption' category in those files, while police also face higher disclosure schedule requirements for pre-charge files.

To assess the impact of these changes, the review worked with Durham, Kent, Leicestershire and Merseyside Police to quantify how long it takes investigators to build building a non-complex pre-charge file.

This showed that between 4.8 and 23 hours are required for each file, an average of 14 hours (of which about 20% is spent on redaction). 

It's higher for complex cases, with Kent Police estimating that child abuse case files take an average of 112 hours. It takes 63 hours across all crime types, complex and non-complex.

The above three elements have contributed to this. A review by Surrey Police found the requirement for investigators to complete the Investigation Management Document has added an average of three hours of work when completing a file. 

This equates to 540,000 officer hours a year, when extrapolated to all 180,000 pre-charge files sent to the CPS in 2022/23.

Reducing the redaction burden has been an aim of the Chair of the Police Federation National Detectives’ Forum (PFNDF), Ben Hudson, for some time.

Mr Hudson has long since been an advocate of changing data protection legislation to ease the burden caused by disclosure guidelines which have created 'digital Tipp-Ex units' within forces.

The review addresses this, referencing a recent NPCC review of pre-charge files from 2020 - before the changes were made. According to that review, in 2020 there were six items of 'unused' material for each file sent to the CPS.

In the 2023 files this had increased to 16 'unused' items; an average of 129 pages of text and 49 minutes of audio/visual material. 

Using the Thames Valley Police methodology of two minutes to review/redact a page and 1.5 times to review the length of audio-visual material, the review estimates that an average of 5.5 hours is required to redact the material for each pre-charge file.

Given that the CPS decided to take no further action in relation to 38,274 pre-charge files in 2022/23, this means forces will have spent over 210,000 hours redacting material for files that do not progress.

With all this considered, the review recommends that the government urgently reviews the guidance on how police submit case files to the CPS, with ministers to consider its findings by June 2024.

Moreover, it recommends that, by next March, the government introduces an exemption to the Data Protection Act which facilitates the easier sharing of material at the early stage for CPS advice.

The review also looked at technical solutions which enable auto redaction.

This is being explored by a number of forces, including Bedfordshire Police which has tested Docdefender, which assists the reviewer by automatically highlighting the potential data that might need to be redacted. 

To this end, the review outlines that forces must implement technical opportunities to redact material by September 2024; delivery of this must be a top priority for the Police Digital Service.

The review also examines how to better utilise the workorce, and recommends that forces should improve the productive use of medically restricted (recuperative and adjusted) duties officers and staff.

According to Home Office police workforce data, as of March 31 over 13,000 officers were on limited duties. Of these, 5,665 were on recuperative duties with 7,630 on adjusted duties.

Several forces reported to the review that limited duties offcers are kept on their original teams, carrying out office duties that will not make a most productive use of their capabilities.

By contrast, the CNC has a rigorous process to track and understand the reason why police offcers are not available for deployment and get them back to full duties.

The review also detailed the time savings expected as a result of changes to Home Office counting rules introduced in May, including using a 'principal offence' approach to record all reported crimes for a single incident. 

It found that implementing these recommendations is expected to lead to the reduction of as much as 4% (236,000) of crime reports per year.

Moreover, further changes are expected following a second phase of work.

The review recommends that relevant proposals should have been brought forward by the NPCC lead for crime data integrity, CC Chris Rowley, by October. 

Police Oracle has asked the NPCC whether this has been done, and if so, what the proposals entail.

The review cites a few focus areas for this second phase, including ensuring the counting rules reflect the requirements of modern slavery incident recording and changing the status of a child offender from suspect to person of interest, in cases of 'non-aggravated requests for indecent images'.

NPCC chair, CC Gavin Stephens, said: "This review demonstrates the huge strength and breadth of work our officers and staff undertake and we welcome the recommendations which could reduce some of the significant daily burden placed on them.

"Greater adoption of science and technology is highlighted as a key area in which we can boost efficiency, building on innovation and setting out the skills and capabilities needed in our future workforce to continue this development."

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