The quality of police case files the starting point of most criminal prosecutions appears to be deteriorating, according to a damning report by MPs on the state of IT in the justice systems.
The House of Commons Public Accounts Committee¹s landscape review notes that in 2011 around half of police files submitted to the Crown Prosecution Service did not give an adequate summary of the case: this figure rose to 63% in 2013.
This is only one example of weaknesses in the system which "have persisted for far too long and which cause delay and inefficiency, and serve to undermine public confidence", the MPs say. "The remarkably slow progress in improving IT systems over the last decade means there are still too many disparate systems, which fail to operate together," the report concludes. Fragmentation is particularly a problem in the police service, where some 2,000 IT systems are in use - the Metropolitan Police alone has more than 300. Although there has been "some progress" - more than 90% of police files are transferred to prosecutors digitally, compared with none two years ago. "Prosecutors have reported that it takes significantly longer to process work digitally rather than on paper."
A significant broken link is between magistrates and higher courts - documents have to be copied and transferred either physically or by email. The Crown Court still depends on the 24-year-old Crest system to manage cases, the report says ³although this had been due to be modernised by 2011".
"The quality of police case files is poor and getting worse," the report says. "The Crown Prosecution Service confirmed that the poor quality case files they receive from police forces has been a longstanding problem, which has got worse - in 2011 around half of police files did not give an adequate summary of the case, rising to 63% in 2013."
The CPS is now redesigning electronic forms so they do not allow users to complete them improperly or to enter unnecessary information, starting with those for the simplest high volume offences, such as street crime and traffic offences. It intends to make a suite of files for basic offences available from around October, and to roll out the standard road traffic file nationally by the end of this year.
The report strongly recommends more shared services among the 43 English police forces. Good examples of this are back office collaborations between Norfolk and Suffolk and Hampshire and Devon and Cornwall. However the present level of collaboration "is at best patchy" and there is "far more scope for good practice examples to be shared and replicated²"