Chapter 3 – Continuous Improvement
The primary responsibility for continuous improvement rests with COPFS. In last year's Annual Report, I reported that COPFS has adopted an objective, targeted and risk-based approach to learning and improving processes and systems. During 2014/15, a number of initiatives have been introduced by COPFS to enhance the overall quality of service. For example:
Case Review Group (CRG)
COPFS has recently set up a Case Review Group to look at cases where difficulties have arisen to ensure that relevant learning is identified and disseminated and any systematic issues are rectified.
The members of the CRG are senior officials who meet weekly with one of the Law Officers. Cases are referred for consideration in a number of ways, including via complaints, expressions of public concern, and judicial comment or by the relevant Operational Board. All cases referred to the CRG remain under scrutiny until concluded. The Group is in its infancy but its work has already led to changes of policy and practice, e.g. the appointment of a prosecutor at the High Court at Glasgow to assist and liaise with Advocate Deputes dealing with Preliminary Hearings.
Management Development Programme
COPFS has launched a new Management Development Programme (MDP) aimed at increasing the skill and confidence of its leaders and managers. The programme provides broad training in management principles, with a focus on various aspects of managing self, managing people and managing performance, but is also individually tailored to different management functions in COPFS. For example, the programme for managers dealing with Sheriff and Jury business includes operational skills workshops on the core management responsibilities for dealing with such business. The programme will be delivered, over a 13-month period, through a variety of learning tools including e-learning modules, workshops and action learning sets.
Review of Specific Crimes
The ability of managers to access a database of cases containing particular crimes and any relevant documentation enables categories of crimes that have been identified as sensitive or problematic due to the nature of the offence, to be more easily monitored. Such an approach has been used to review various types of offending including domestic abuse and offences involving transgender victims and accused and elderly victims. More recently, this approach has been applied to stalking cases. COPFS has appointed a dedicated National lead for such cases, who is assisted by a number of Federation specialists. The specialists review stalking cases on an ongoing basis to identify, for example, any deficiencies in police reporting, non-compliance with prosecution policy or particular difficulties/sensitivities as well as best practice. A monthly report is produced which enables COPFS to provide constructive feedback to the police, address any failures to comply with prosecution guidelines and policy and provide feedback and learning to prosecutors. The review provides a substantial level of reassurance that such cases are dealt with appropriately.
Information Technology Applications
There are a number of other strands to the improvement portfolio being taken forward by the Strategy and Delivery Division in COPFS.
We received a demonstration from COPFS of front end applications designed to simplify and automate a number of existing processes. The implementation of such applications will reduce the potential for human error and provide access to relevant information to enable decisions to be taken on various aspects of a case including whether a witness can be excused or whether a plea is acceptable without obtaining hard copy papers or trawling through the COPFS case directory.
To maximise the use of digital technology, COPFS is about to roll out iPads in two model offices to use in court to test their functionality and applicability in a real time environment.
These initiatives, as part of an ongoing improvement agenda, are positive developments, although I reiterate the view expressed in last year's Annual Report that the Operational Boards, based on a risk assessment approach, should agree a set of key areas or processes to be monitored as part of their continuous improvement programme.