Problems with IT systems have made it more difficult for police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to build cases together, according to a new report.
HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate has identified the issue in its interim findings from an investigation into the challenges of case building, conveying the picture of unwieldy technology that often hinders the necessary information sharing.
The report’s foreword states: “In particular, we found that the systems and processes, including IT systems used by police and CPS for quality assurance, communication and transfer of information have become overly complicated. Rather than facilitate partnership working, they can create barriers to it.”
It points out that the UK’s 43 police forces use a variety of IT systems that were not originally designed to be used for the transfer of digital case files, information is not shared in the same way, and CPS areas often have to manage more than one system interface.
In addition, police personnel and prosecutors told the inspectorate that their own systems can be difficult to use.
The CPS case management system often fails to recognise material from police forces correctly, which can lead to it requesting information that already been sent, or that the police believe has been sent. This can lead to tension between the two, slow down efforts to build a case and undermine partnership working.
In addition, the two-way interface between the CPS and the police cannot process anything over 1MB in size, so it has to be compressed, which can undermine the quality of CCTV footage or still images. In some police systems it requires the material to be rebuilt, which imposes an extra burden.
It also causes problems in passing information to support a decision on charging a suspect before the deadline on holding them in custody.
Steps are being taken to raise the capacity to 4MB but this may not be enough, the report says.
“Many of our interviewees did not know what the impact was in their partner agency of using the IT in a certain way, or how material sent by them landed with their counterpart,” it adds.
An effort is underway to overcome these problems, with the Police Digital Service working on streamlining the digital delivery of case papers. This involves moving away from using electronic document templates and towards structured pre-set data fields.
The report also highlights issues around the complexity of the law and legal processes, levels of experience among staff from both sides, and different views on some areas of partnership working.
The inspectorate has said a final report will present a fuller picture and a set of recommendations.