Chapter 4 – Quality
"There are a number of reasons for the perceived decline in the quality of police reports in recent years. There is less direct contact between Fiscals and Reporting Officers since reports have been submitted electronically. The opportunity for feedback has diminished, as has the willingness on both sides to instigate contact."
ACPOS/ COPFS Joint Protocol (2003)
4.1 Guidance on Police Reports
In 2000 an ACPOS/ COPFS working group prepared implementation guidance entitled "Guidance on Police Reports, Statements and the Presentation of Evidence in Court". In 2002 an ACPOS/ COPFS Working Group revisited this issue and found that the previous guidance, which had not been fully implemented, required updating and dissemination amongst forces. This, and other issues, was addressed within a report entitled "For timing, quality and volume of police reports and written communications" and was included within the ACPOS/ COPFS Joint Protocol through the following:
- The principles set out in the Guidance issued by the last ACPOS/ COPFS Working Group on Quality of Police Reports and Statements, and now updated, should be disseminated throughout both organisations and put into practice as soon as possible - [ ACPOS/ COPFS - Rec. 5].
The inspection team is aware that this "Guidance on Police Reports, Statements and the Presentation of Evidence in Court" was revised in autumn 2004, in response to the introduction of the New Style Statement ( NSS). The guidance appears to have been endorsed at senior level in both ACPOS and COPFS. However, it would benefit from review in light of current developments and should be disseminated throughout both organisations to ensure that the quality of reports is maintained and applied consistently across all forces.
Recommendation 5 - that ACPOS and COPFS review and update the "Guidance on Police Reports, Statements and the Presentation of Evidence in Court", previously revised in 2004, and disseminate this updated guidance across police forces and Area Procurators Fiscal.
4.2 Getting it Right First Time
The inspection team reinforces the comments made within the initial guidance report, "Guidance on police reports, statements and the presentation of evidence in court". This requires forces to provide a product of suitable quality to Procurators Fiscal, with an onus on providing information which is complete, accurate and reliable throughout the spectrum of police reports, statement submission and evidence in court. Forces need to "get it right first time" and officers should receive sufficient support to carry out appropriate enquiry, note relevant statements and submit reliable and accurate information to Procurators Fiscal. HMIC and IPS consider that the role of supervisors is critical to this process and accept the real challenges in balancing operational demands against time required for enquiries and preparing reports.
During the fieldwork, the inspection team was encouraged by the feedback from Area Procurators Fiscal, which indicated that the standard of police reports was generally acceptable and that quality was not in itself a significant issue. Whilst it is acknowledged that there continues to be room for improvement, all police forces have shown a commitment to providing a quality product to Procurators Fiscal.
The inspection team consulted with The Sheriff's Association and was interested in its views as consumers of police reports. The experience of sheriffs questions the Standard Prosecution Report's ( SPR) fitness for purpose in relation to providing information to the court in the high proportion of summary cases in which a plea of guilty is tendered. There is an impression, from the way in which offence circumstances are narrated to sheriffs, that the SPR does not provide a convenient basis for a depute fiscal to provide the court with a succinct summary of the salient features of the crime - including any aspects of gravity or mitigation. It is a common experience for sheriffs to have to listen to depute fiscals reading out large amounts of irrelevant information from a report. This seems to suggest that the standard report lacks a convenient section simply summarising the relevant offences. The feedback from The Sheriff's Association highlights the value in forces and Procurators Fiscal consulting more widely on aspects of quality and service delivery. The inspection team believes that local criminal justice boards will provide a useful forum for such discussion.
4.3 No Proceedings as an Indicator of Quality
The ACPOS/ COPFS Joint Protocol recognised that instigating electronic communication had diminished opportunities for feedback, and questioned the willingness of both sides to initiate direct contact. The inspection team was encouraged to note that these concerns have been addressed through effective bi-lateral relations between Procurators Fiscal and police forces, and there is ample evidence of feedback on issues of quality.
The initial ACPOS/ COPFS Joint Protocol highlighted the need to establish good practice to improve the quality of police reports. The inspection team recognises that there are opportunities to establish good practice through Area Procurators' Fiscal feedback in relation to cases marked "no proceedings". Procurators Fiscal, having regard to the circumstances of the offence and the offender, decide whether the matter should proceed to prosecution, be dealt with by way of a non-court disposal or be marked "no further proceedings". Where cases are marked "no further proceedings", Fiscals must record the reasons for their decision against one of thirteen specified categories.
COPFS produces routine management information in relation to cases marked "no proceedings". This is scrutinised on a national basis and is available to the COPFS management board who can take appropriate action if specific trends or issues are identified. The information is also fed back on a monthly basis to Area Procurators Fiscal, who can take early action within their areas.
Figure 5 - Chart Showing Breakdown of Reasons for No Proceedings - 2004/05
Data Provided by COPFS
A number of the 13 specified reasons in this chart are useful in highlighting issues of quality and timeliness of submission, as well as identifying resource shortfalls within COPFS or the courts. In terms of timeliness, the chart shows that 7,759 cases were marked "no proceedings" due to delays by police or other reporting agencies in 2004/05. Perhaps the most relevant indicator for quality is "insufficient evidence available", which accounted for 12,776 cases over the period. Cases marked as having insufficient evidence may indicate that a reporting officer requires further training in sufficiency of evidence. Although, in some cases the evidence may be marginal and a reporting officer correct in submitting the report for consideration.
HMIC and IPS believe the management information provided by COPFS in relation to cases marked "further action disproportionate" ( NPFAD) to be a useful measure of how effectively forces and Procurators Fiscal are applying non-reporting and non-court options. In 2004/05, 19,128 cases fell into this category. When viewed in conjunction with information for non-reporting options, a reduction in the cases marked NPFAD would tend to indicate a more positive outcome. The significance of those cases marked NPFAD is discussed in more detail in relation to Alternatives to Prosecution (Section 8.2).
The inspection team noted that it is now common practice for Area Procurators Fiscal to share "no proceedings" information with forces and local commanders, enabling further monitoring of police performance. The team was impressed by the approach taken within Central Scotland, where the Area Procurator Fiscal supplements this information with a detailed listing of each individual case number, along with a note of the reason for no proceedings being taken. This allows local commanders to review the information on a case by case basis and provides opportunities to identify quality issues at a force, team or individual level. The Procurator Fiscal at Stirling monitors all cases marked "no proceedings" and communicates directly with the local area commander to highlight any cases which are of particular concern as regards to quality.
Recommendation 6 - that Area Procurators Fiscal routinely share information in respect of "no proceedings" with police forces and jointly develop these as an indicator for the quality of police reports submitted. Information in respect of cases marked "No Proceedings Further Action Disproportionate" should be jointly developed as an indicator for the effectiveness of non-reporting and non-court options.
Given the value of sharing information on no proceedings with police forces as a means of monitoring quality, it is important that COPFS ensures consistency in Procurators Fiscal decision-making and has some mechanism of quality assurance. The inspection team was impressed by the auditing facility that has been built into the Future Office System ( FOS). This enables a supervisor, normally a Principal Depute, to audit a percentage of a Depute Fiscal's marking or any cases marked in a specific way. These cases are automatically sent to the auditor, who must approve them before the marking stage is complete. If it is not approved, the case will be returned to the marking Depute for reconsideration.
4.4 Approaches to Quality Assurance
The inspection team recognises that there is no single system for quality assuring police reports; different approaches are suited to different forces, depending on size, geography and operational demands. While approaches may vary, all forces have a responsibility to implement systems which effectively support case management and reduce unnecessary bureaucracy. There are currently three distinct approaches to supporting case management within forces, namely:
1. Case Management Approach - Reporting Officer submission with support from a case management unit which oversees timeliness and quality.
2. Supervisory Approach - Reporting Officer submission with support from a supervisor to ensure timeliness and quality, with centralised support for ISCJIS compliance and electronic transfer.
3. Direct Submission Approach - Reporting Officer submission directly to Procurator Fiscal who provides direct feedback re requirement and quality, with centralised support for ISCJIS compliance and electronic transfer.
HMIC and IPS have provided comment on each of these approaches and have identified specific benefits and examples of good practice. The inspection team has intentionally refrained from identifying any singular approach as being better than others, believing that forces should have the flexibility to adopt whatever approach is best for them.
4.5 Case Management Approach
The case management approach places responsibility for checking the quality of police reports on dedicated case management units. It provides for an element of central co-ordination in terms of checking for ISCJIS compliance and electronic transfer to the Procurators Fiscal. Some of the benefits of this approach are:
- reduces Reporting Officer time on administration duties
- reduces supervisor time spent on administration duties
- consistency of approach to quality and standards issues
- centralised priorities can be set to meet target times
- central point of contact for Procurator Fiscal Office
- strategic focus and overview of criminal justice process
- corporate management of criminal justice requirements.
Whilst there are many benefits from centralised case management, the inspection team found significant variance in the approaches taken across Scotland. In some cases the central units simply co-ordinate the electronic transfer of reports, with no quality assurance or monitoring role.
The ACPOS and COPFS Working Group, formed to develop the Joint Protocol, felt that the system operating in some forces applying the case management approach had not been wholly successful. There was evidence that the emphasis on case management units had led to a "de-skilling" of supervisors. This issue was addressed within the ACPOS/ COPFS Joint Protocol through the following:
- The central role of supervisors in ensuring quality of reporting should be re-emphasised - [ ACPOS/ COPFS - Rec. 5].
The inspection team re-examined the concern that case management units were not fulfilling any significant quality assurance or supervisory role. It confirmed that, in general terms, the respective roles and interface between the supervisor and some case management units require a greater degree of clarity, to ensure ownership and consistency over police reports. The key is to ensure a continuum of management through the life of the case prior to it being delivered to the Procurator Fiscal, and to maintain a focus on "getting it right first time".
Where forces elect for case management units, these units should have clearly defined roles in providing quality assurance. This should focus on the accuracy and competency of information submitted to Procurators Fiscal and support officers in meeting and maintaining the standards expected. Case management units should have a clearly defined role in supporting and monitoring the range of internal sub-processes to ensure that timeliness issues are addressed. This should complement the role and responsibilities of officers and their supervisors.
Recommendation 7 - that where forces elect for case management units, these units should have clearly defined roles which support officers in providing reports of an appropriate standard, and should monitor the internal sub-processes to ensure that reports are submitted within appropriate timescales and are ISCJIS compliant.
Fife Constabulary provides comprehensive support to operational officers through a centralised case management unit. In adopting this process the force has acknowledged the competing demands placed on first line managers (mainly sergeants) and has reduced their involvement in processing police reports and statements. Responsibility for the quality of reports lies with case "report checkers", all of whom are retired police officers based within the case management unit. They provide appropriate support to reporting officers and monitor performance targets. The force also operates a dedicated statement unit, which monitors and audits all statement requests and ensures that all requests are serviced timeously.
The inspection team recognises the move from "case processing" to genuine "case management" within Fife Constabulary, and endorses the approach to deliver measurable benefits by introducing a case management unit. In reducing the administrative burden on operational officers, the force has freed up time for officers to deal with enquiries and other operational matters. HMIC and IPS were encouraged by the force's approach in applying a grading process to all reports prior to submission to the Procurator Fiscal or the Children's Reporter. This has been developed in liaison with the Area Procurator Fiscal and is supported by the force " Report Writing Guide". The grading is applied in relation to both quality and timeliness.
Fife Constabulary Grading Process
The Gradings applied are:
1. Very Good
Grade 1: Notes in support of the grading must be entered. These are used as an indicator for officer performance in regard to communications and report writing skills and will inform the selection of Tutor Constables.
Grade 4: Notes in support of the grading must be entered. These will initiate suitable remedial action/training for officers in liaison with divisional managers.
Grade 2/3: Notes can be added to support this grading but they are not a requirement.
The inspection team found the management information provided by the case management system to be useful in monitoring individuals' performance in relation to both timeliness and quality. It also identifies individual, team and force training needs and is key to supporting continuous improvement within the force. HMIC and IPS considers the grading system for reports used by Fife Constabulary, worthy of consideration by other forces.
4.6 Supervisory Approach
This approach places responsibility for checking the quality of police reports on supervisory officers. It still provides for an element of central co-ordination, in terms of checking for ISCJIS compliance and electronic transfer to the Procurators Fiscal. Some of the benefits of this approach are:
- direct line management supervision and support to Reporting Officer
- direct interface between Reporting Officer and Supervisor on issues of quality
- direct management of caseloads by Reporting Officer and Supervisor.
Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary employ this approach, where it has proved particularly effective. Targets for submitting police reports are consistently achieved (Section 3.2) and the Area Procurator Fiscal has expressed satisfaction at the standard of reports submitted. However, it is acknowledged that this approach is resource intensive for supervisors, and can account for up to 50% of an operational sergeant's time in overseeing and checking reports prior to submission.
The inspection team examined the scheme operating within Dumfries & Galloway Constabulary, which offers accreditation to officers on reaching a required standard in regard to SPR submission. The scheme is co-ordinated by a police officer co-located in the Procurator Fiscal's office. Accredited officers can submit reports directly to the Procurator Fiscal without the need for checking by the supervisor or reports bureau. Approximately 25% of officers within the force are accredited, allowing supervisors to be released to undertake other duties. The force sees the scheme as contributing greatly to their ability to meet the statutory 28 day reporting target.
Dumfries & Galloway Constabulary Accreditation Scheme
Officer must not
have minimum of 3 years service
have minimum of 6 months in a new dept
manage submission of all types of reports consistently and within appropriate timescales
require supervisory reminder to submit reports within set timescales
effectively manage all case related documents and productions
consistently submit high standard reports which require no amendments
have had receipt of PF complaint regarding standard of report submitted
consistently and thoroughly investigate enquiries
submit reports for supervisory checking where it is found that all aspects of the matter have not been investigated
have a high level of local knowledge and knowledge in regard to evidence
demonstrate and apply sound knowledge of human rights requirements
self generate a significant part of workload
require supervisory reminder to increase workload
demonstrate ability to produce reports on a full range of incidents (specific to role)
be highly self-motivated and enthusiastic
have had supervisor reminder top submit reports
have attained an overall grading of less than 5 at last performance review
Irrespective of the arguments for supervisory officers checking reports, the inspection team recognises the critical role of supervisors in providing support at initial enquiry stage. The initial responsibilities of the supervisor include:
- supporting officers in carrying out appropriate enquiry
- supporting officers in noting accurate statements
- making time available to officers for report writing
- monitoring officer workloads in relation to reports.
The inspection team considers that, with appropriate commitment, guidance and support from supervisors, reporting times and quality can be improved. This was evident within Grampian Police, where increased focus by supervisors in Peterhead resulted in 91% of all police reports being submitted to the Procurator Fiscal within the 28-day target.
4.7 Direct Submission Approach
The direct submission approach allows officers to submit reports directly to the Procurator Fiscal, without them being quality checked by a supervisor or case management unit. There is still an element of central co-ordination, in terms of checking for ISCJIS compliance and facilitating electronic transfer to Procurators Fiscal. This approach has featured within the "Cleanstream" projects operated by Grampian Police and Lothian and Borders Police, and has the following benefits:
- direct contact between the Reporting Officer and Procurator Fiscal in relation to what has to be reported
- direct feedback from Procurator Fiscals to Reporting Officer regarding quality
- greater use of abbreviated reports, saving officer time on administration
- quicker end-to-end management of cases.
The inspection team was aware of favourable feedback from officers directly submitting police reports. In general terms, they found it less bureaucratic, less time consuming and more operationally effective when dealing with their day to day business. In relation to direct submission, the inspection team believes that further consideration should be given to the role of supervisors to ensure they provide support to officers. HMIC and IPS are aware that this approach will be included in the wider evaluation of "Cleanstream", the results of which will inform ACPOS and COPFS on the benefits and the potential for wider application across Scotland.