Chapter 3 – Continuous Improvement and Digital Innovation
The principal responsibility for improving public services rests with COPFS. This requires strong leadership and a culture and commitment to support the delivery of improvement in practice. In an increasingly digital world, where public expectations continue to drive up standards of customer service, organisations need to constantly assess how they can deliver the business better and in a more responsive manner. COPFS is currently exploring a number of ways to use new technological advances to improve its service delivery, as part of its continuous improvement programme.
We highlight below a number of ongoing and new initiatives aimed at driving improvement and realising efficiencies.
Management Development Programme
In the 2014-15 Annual Report we reported that COPFS had launched a new Management Development Programme (MDP) aimed at increasing the skill and confidence of its leaders and managers. The programme was to be delivered over a 13 month period, through a variety of learning tools including e-learning modules, workshops and action learning sets.
The MDP was initially rolled out to those working in the Sheriff and Jury function in May 2015 and thereafter to staff in dealing with summary business, the Serious Casework Division and High Court. This was completed in April 2016. The final roll‑out of the MDP is now taking place for staff working in Corporate Services Group and in Initial Case Processing, with a projected completion date of October 2017. On completion the programme will have provided training in essential management skills to over 300 managers within COPFS. COPFS also worked collaboratively with the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (PIRC), with 16 managers from the PIRC participating in the programme.
Evaluation of the MDP will be continuous applying a multi-faceted approach utilising questionnaires, online surveys, one to one discussions and action learning sets. The action learning sets will also provide an opportunity for managers to share experiences and good practice of the application of skills in the operational environment.
Review of Specific Crimes
Managers have continued to review specific categories of crimes that have been identified as sensitive or problematic due to the nature of the offence. This has been facilitated through the use of an IT application which allows access to the database and any relevant case information and documentation in a user friendly way, avoiding the need to locate and access hard copy files which can be time consuming and labour intensive.
For instance, monthly reviews of stalking cases have continued in order to identify, for example, any deficiencies in police reporting, non-compliance with prosecution policy or particular difficulties/sensitivities as well as best practice. Two discrete reviews were also conducted in relation to domestic abuse cases using the same application.
Independent Review Panel on Domestic Abuse and Sexual Crime (IRP)
The effective prosecution of domestic abuse and sexual violence is a strategic priority for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service. To demonstrate that its policies and practices are fair, sensitive and robust, during 2015-16 COPFS introduced a review of cases by an independent panel consisting of organisations that represent the interests of victims and witnesses, including Scottish Women's Aid (SWA), Rape Crisis, Victim Support Scotland (VSS) and Children 1st.
The purpose of the Independent Review Panel is to review domestic abuse and sexual offence case files to assess:
- The way in which COPFS interacts with victims and witnesses and to make any appropriate recommendations on the individual cases looked at to improve COPFS service to victims and witnesses;
- To test and challenge COPFS policies and practices to ensure operational effectiveness in all cases;
- To make recommendations for improvement based on the review and scrutiny of the cases; and
- To raise awareness and understanding of the decision making processes of COPFS.
There have been three IRPs to date. Cases are randomly selected although the particular interest of those attending is taken into account. The panel can examine, query and challenge any aspect of the cases including the decision making, content of correspondence and highlight areas where practices could be improved. For example, as a result of recommendations from the IRP, Victim Information and Advice (VIA) staff now receive training on domestic abuse and the domestic abuse training course includes an input on the impact that domestic abuse has on children. All action points arising from the IRPs are anonymised and shared with the panel and those impacted by the actions. We will consider the work of the IRPs and any outcomes as part of our forthcoming review on the investigation and prosecution of sexual crimes.
Case Management Applications
In the 2014-15 Annual Report we reported that COPFS had developed a front end application designed to simplify and automate a number of existing processes which would reduce the potential for human error and provide access to information, to allow decisions to be taken without obtaining hard copy papers.
This IT application is now a "proved concept" with the introduction of a number of bespoke applications to simplify processes.
One example is an application known as the National Enquiry Advice Service (NEAS) that was designed to enable all correspondence and witness excusals sent to one office to be accessed and dealt with by an experienced depute based elsewhere. This was piloted in two offices. While the pilot identified some practical issues arising from a lack of local knowledge and practices, it did prove the viability as a proof of concept of the NEAS.
The ability to deal with particular types of work remotely introduces flexibility and an element of resilience for COPFS, with the staff in offices able to assist other offices at peak periods and to allow business to be dealt with more efficiently when, for example, a member of staff in a small office is absent for any particular reason without having to physically move the papers. One particular example is that cases of a particular nature e.g. stalking may be either prepared or checked remotely by those with a specialist training in this area. Following the successful proof of concept, sheriffdom managers are currently ascertaining the best use that can be made of the service.
The use of such applications provides a more cost effective way of making any necessary changes and improvements with the changes being restricted to the discrete area of business affected, rather than wholesale system change being required.
The development of computer tablets for use in court has taken longer than anticipated due to technical issues that required to be resolved. While this has delayed the roll-out, it has enabled increased functionality to be built into the computer tablets, resulting in a more sophisticated and improved product than the initial version.
The next step is to commence user testing in real time in two procurator fiscal offices. It is envisaged that prosecutors will be able to download case files for court onto the device using a secure connection. An IT application named "Case Management in Court" has been developed which will enable deputes to access all documents held in the case directory.
The use of computer tablets in court represents a cultural change for prosecutors. While the application has been designed to be intuitive and replicate hard copy cases files, it is recognised that the pace of adaptability will vary between prosecutors. The overarching objective is to improve the delivery of the presentation of the case but there are a number of anticipated ancillary benefits such as reducing the need for hard copy files and greatly simplifying updating files before and after court, creating efficiencies for the administrative staff. We look forward to assessing the impact and benefits of this innovative way of working.
ISD Corporate Applications
The Corporate Applications project seeks to transform digitally the way in which COPFS carries out its corporate administration processes. It aims to improve the way COPFS accesses, processes and shares corporate information across the organisation.
The applications will allow corporate information and processes such as staff data, travel and subsistence expenses, absence records and performance appraisal to be managed more effectively by inter-linking COPFS systems using digital age techniques. The intention is to provide a suite of products providing corporate information, applications, tools and processes accessed through a web portal. The first application will enable any change in status or location updated by a member of staff to automatically populate other relevant fields.
The applications should save money and time by streamlining systems and requiring less manual and hard-copy transactions.