Chapter 5 – Case Management Processes
"We recognise that the cost of moving to a unified system may be substantial for those forces, particularly the larger ones, but we feel that the long term benefits would be substantial and would facilitate more accurate reflection of input."
ACPOS/ COPFS Joint protocols report to Steering Group
5.1 Police Case Management
It is widely recognised that case marking units within Procurator Fiscal offices work most efficiently with a constant throughput of reports. Furthermore, the COPFS system of case marking benefits from situations where case reporting of cases is consistent and predictable, in so far as natural variation in offending rates allow. This not only keeps workloads downstream from the case marking units more manageable, but also allows cases to be allocated to Court in a faster and more efficient way. It is reasonable to assume that information provided by the police, in regard to backlogs or potential increases in the volume of police reports, is invaluable in allowing Procurators Fiscal to allocate resources to case marking. Such information is available where there is a police case management system which allows backlogs to be identified. This was addressed in the ACPOS/ COPFS Joint Protocol report through the following:
- Forces that do not currently have an integrated case management and case reporting system should consider the introduction of that option, and in the short-term, should introduce alternative methods for the extraction of current data on the number of cases likely to be reported to the Fiscal [ ACPOS/ COPFS - Rec. 20]
- Area Fiscals should receive monthly information from local Senior Police Officers on the level of work in progress and the potential impact of any planned initiatives [ ACPOS/ COPFS - Rec. 21]
- Area Fiscals and Chief Constables should hold discussions, no less than annually, in order to analyse crime trends and reporting patterns with a view to assessing their implications [ ACPOS/ COPFS - Rec. 22]
The inspection team acknowledges the diverse range of sub-processes in case management and the difficulties faced by forces that operate across a number of separate systems. HMIC and IPS firmly believe that significant improvements within case management will follow from integrated systems which cover all aspects of case preparation, case management, information processing and the electronic transfer of information to the Procurators Fiscal. The complexity of sub-processes involved in case management by police forces is shown graphically in the process map used by Tayside Police for the submission of an SPR.
Figure 6 - Tayside Police process map for SPR submission
The SMART system operating within Tayside Police is an integrated management system that facilitates the electronic creation and submission of reports to Procurators Fiscal. This system can create, collate and submit information to COPFS in a manner that is fully compliant with ISCJIS data. It requires a reporting officer to register an SPR, which is then given a unique reference number for tracking through case preparation and final submission to the Procurator Fiscal. A strength of the system is the ability to audit all documentation related to the SPR, including statement requests and correspondence from Procurators Fiscal. This provides an effective support mechanism to officers and supervisors in managing caseloads. It also provides information on any potential backlogs or delays in report submissions and assists Procurators Fiscal to manage their respective workflows.
HMIC12 has previously commented that the efficiency of the overall process is significantly improved when a report is automatically generated from data collated from the moment the incident was made known to the police. In this regard, the inspection team recognises developments within Central Scotland Police, Grampian Police and Fife Constabulary in relation to the use of the CrimeFile application, which can automatically generate a report based on data input from the initial incident. This application also supports the management of officer workloads.
Case management systems should be able to update key operational databases with relevant information or intelligence. HMIC recently progressed a separate work stream in relation to the recommendations of Sir Michael Bichard 13 and worked with ACPOS in establishing targets for recording pending cases on the Scottish Criminal History System and Police National Computer. The timely recording of pending cases is a crucial sub-process and is essential if the disclosure process is to operate effectively. HMIC routinely monitors force performance in relation to recording pending cases, as part its primary and review inspection programme.
While some forces have made progress in relation to integrated case management systems, there is no universal system operating across all forces. The existing range of police case management systems creates a level of complexity when integrating with COPFS systems, and a number of interfaces have to be developed to exchange data. This also limits opportunities to standardise case management processes and report on a range of key performance indicators. While the inspection team recognises the significant benefits that a single integrated case management system would bring forces, developing or procuring such a system would require significant investment. However, it is a matter which should be considered as part of ACPOS development of its IM Strategy.
The inspection team found clear evidence of forces and Procurators Fiscal working together to manage caseloads. Forces also routinely provide information to Procurators Fiscal with regard to initiatives and other operational matters. HMIC and IPS recognise the good practice operating within Central Scotland Police, where Procurators Fiscal attend local tasking and co-ordinating meetings to enhance their awareness of ongoing operational issues. The inspection team found examples of regular dialogue between senior police officers and Procurators Fiscal on both a formal and informal basis. HMIC and IPS recognise that recent developments with regard to the local criminal justice boards have enhanced communication. HMIC and IPS consider that these boards may be an appropriate focal point for discussion and formal agreement in terms of crime trends and reporting patterns.
5.2 Procurator Fiscal Case Management
One of the most significant developments in COPFS in recent years has been the introduction of the Future Office System ( FOS), an electronic system of case marking and administration. The system is being introduced in stages, with Phase One now completed. It enables electronic receipt of cases from police forces and allows these to be marked on screen by legal staff. It is estimated that approximately 40% of new cases are processed without any further intervention by legal or administrative staff. Warning letters, fixed penalties and conditional offers (fiscal fines) which are marked at this stage, are transmitted electronically to a central facility to be printed and sent to offenders.
The roll out of Phase Two is scheduled throughout 2006. This will cover the processing of all summary cases until final disposal in Court. It will also allow all cases against an accused to be "rolled up" into a single case, much more efficiently than is possible under the present system. Since a new national database was introduced for FOS, offences committed anywhere in Scotland by an accused can be dealt with along with other outstanding charges. Additionally, where all charges against an accused are contained in the same complaint, they can be dealt with together. This can lead to fewer pleading and trial diets, resulting in cost savings and administrative benefits to forces, COPFS and the courts.
The Sheriffs' Association expressed concerns over the extent to which current reporting arrangements allow outstanding charges to be gathered against individual accused. Doing so could enable these to be dealt with in single rather than multiple proceedings, or at least at the same time. It was suggested that courts are rarely presented with the full extent of an active offender's outstanding charges or cases. Hopefully these concerns will begin to be addressed through the proposed functionality of Phase Two. This will also enable Procurators Fiscal to fulfil every piece of summary processing, from updating court records and generating documents, to citing witnesses and other administrative functions which are currently completed manually.
The inspection team received positive feedback from all Area Procurators Fiscal in relation to FOS. There was also evidence of how process improvements through FOS had translated into performance improvements. Although the primary driver for introducing FOS was efficiency savings at an administrative level, there have been other benefits. The inspection team recognises the ability to manage information better, especially in a joint working environment. The COPFS Management Information Division plays an important part in managing performance. The COPFS Management Board and Area Procurators Fiscal monitor the information collated by the unit. This allows trends to be identified and remedial action taken where necessary. This is in sharp contrast to the situation in some police forces in relation to their ability to provide meaningful management information.
The inspection team found clear evidence that FOS is being used to advantage in developing joint working with other agencies, especially the police. Marking cases within FOS is now recorded in easily accessible form. And details, such as reasons for cases not being proceeded with, can easily be retrieved and shared as part of end-to-end performance management (Section 4.3).
5.3 System Improvement
The inspection team believes that forces and COPFS should expend more effort in identifying and streamlining the many sub processes involved within the criminal justice system. HMIC and IPS recognise the initiatives by Grampian and Lothian & Borders Criminal Justice Boards in developing "Cleanstream" projects. In reviewing current systems and acknowledging the need for a holistic approach to improvement, they have identified that the delivery of the criminal justice system as one entity can be fragmented, especially where there is:
- a confused mixture of conflicting operational priorities
- limited information sharing between criminal justice partners
- duplication of effort by all agencies
- failure to get process and work streams delivered "right first time".
This fragmentation can result in poor end-to-end performance and indicates scope for improvement. It is essential that partner agencies begin to view the criminal justice system as one entity, where processes are linked and have a direct impact on each other. The "Cleanstream" projects have adopted a Systems Thinking approach, which begins to inform and improve operational process in managing caseloads.
Systems Thinking Approach: "Check - Plan - Do"
Step 1: Check
Step 2: Plan
Step 3: Do
The inspection team acknowledges the value of these initiatives in progressing the recommendations from Normand and McInnes. Whilst both projects are still in the early stages of development and will be subject to independent evaluation, they can be considered as useful examples of system improvement reviews. It is considered that any improvement within the criminal justice system should be carried out on a joint basis, as any improvement within police processes will often require the same level of commitment by COPFS in supporting that improvement. HMIC and IPS support the efforts of forces and Procurators Fiscal in process improvement initiatives.
5.4 Development of SPR2
The Integration of Scottish Criminal Justice Information Systems ( ISCJIS) (Section 2.10) is responsible for data standards and electronic data transfer between criminal justice partners. The introduction of the Standard Prosecution Report ( SPR) was a key initiative to standardise the format and type of information to be passed between the police and Procurators Fiscal, and has been operating for a number of years.
SPR 2 is the first major revision of the original SPR. It will be extended to capture a range of additional information, including the data requirements of the Vulnerable Witness (Scotland) Act 2004. Implementing SPR2 requires initial agreement on technical design from all criminal justice partners, and will be followed by technical changes to Crown Office systems and all reporting agency systems, including those of the eight police forces. While there is a desire within forces to move towards SPR2, there are technical difficulties in relation to how they will interface with SPR2 and concerns over costs, training and information processing. The technical issues have been exacerbated by the development of a national Crime Recording system for Scottish forces, which would offer the potential for a single interface with COPFS.
The inspection team is aware that ACPOS Council has recently made a commitment that all forces will adopt SPR2. A provisional timetable to finalise the content by July 2006 has been agreed, with initial testing and implementation within Strathclyde Police as the lead force in Spring 2007. This will be followed by a 12 month national roll-out. HMIC and IPS welcome the commitment shown by ACPOS and look forward to the successful implementation of SPR2 within this agreed timescale.