158.Tackling the underlying causes of complaints is clearly more effective than having to apologise or rectify an issue as a result of a complaint. Complaints signpost areas where there is scope for improvement whether it is customer service or policies and procedures. Critical to actively and visibly promoting a culture of embracing and learning from complaints and supporting improvement and delivery of service to customers is senior staff engagement and an effective system to capture learning lessons.
159. To ascertain how effective COPFS governance structure and processes are in learning from complaints and supporting improvement and delivery of service to customers we examined remits, minutes, agendas and practices of the various Management Boards.
160. COPFS delivers its business via four Federations: three geographical Federations - the East, West and North and a National Federation which includes a number of specialist units including RIU and the Health and Safety Division and corporate functions. Overall day-to-day responsibility for the service delivery of complaints in COPFS is held by the Head of the Policy Unit which sits within the National Federation.
161. Each of the core functions is overseen by an Operational Board headed up by a member of the Senior Civil Service as the functional lead.
162. The Operational Boards are accountable to the COPFS Executive Board, chaired by the Crown Agent.
163. The Executive Board is charged with implementing the vision and delivering the priorities set by the COPFS Strategic Board and accountable for standards of delivery of COPFS strategic objectives.
164. The Executive Board reports in turn to the COPFS Strategic Board, chaired by the Lord Advocate. It provides strategic direction to COPFS and sets priorities to be delivered effectively and efficiently within the available resource.
165. The COPFS Risk Register 2014/15 identifies organisational risks. Of most relevance to this review are risk objectives linked to delivering high customer service, ensuring COPFS processes and best practices are followed correctly and maintaining the confidence of vulnerable witnesses, victims and their families. While appropriate controls such as monitoring, analysing and managing performance by the Operational Boards are identified as means of mitigating risks, there is no reference to the analysis of complaints as part of this process.
166. Good practice observed in other high performing organisations suggests that systematic analysis and monitoring of complaints data can contribute significantly towards achieving organisational objectives and the mitigation of reputational risk.
167. The lack of a specific reference to feedback from complaints data or lessons learned from review of complaints is a potential weakness in corporate governance.
COPFS should include the complaints handling process as a specific control in the COPFS Risk Register.
Feedback from Complaints
168. RIU provide the Operational and Executive Boards with quarterly statistical reports broken down by function. Following feedback from the Operational Boards, the quarterly report focuses on complaints that have been partially upheld or upheld.
169. The reports provide statistical data on the following:
- complaints received and closed each month
- complaints dealt by quick resolution
- complaints dealt by formal procedure
- outstanding complaints
- complaints upheld, partially upheld, withdrawn and not upheld
- complaints dealt with in the published timescales
- any equality issues
- a breakdown, by function, of complaints that have been upheld or partially upheld
170. In addition, copies of correspondence relating to upheld complaints are provided.
171. The Executive Board also receives the quarterly report from RIU. As previously noted, the Crown Agent, meets weekly with the Head of RIU to discuss current complaints and all COPFS complaints referred to SPSO.
172. At present only the remit of the Summary Operational Board includes a responsibility 'to liaise with RIU to identify lessons learnt relating to summary cases', although all of the operational boards take account of the quarterly reports produced by RIU.
173. Charts 9 and 10 illustrate complaints upheld and partially upheld broken down by function and subject matter between January and March 2015.
174. While the report provided by RIU is an extremely useful source of customer feedback and provides an overview of common themes, it does not provide any analysis of thematic issues across the functions or any information on actions taken to address common themes by the Operational Boards or any lessons learnt.
175. The provision of the data in a more user-friendly format may assist with highlighting common and recurring themes. For example, Chart 7 is a graphic representation of the statistical data provided in the RIU report for all closed complaints between January to March 2015. At a glance the type of complaint can be easily identified.
176. This can be further broken down by function to assist in identifying any recurring themes applicable to specific functions as shown in Chart 11.
177. The RIU report focuses on complaints that have been upheld or partially upheld. While these complaints should be prioritised to ensure lessons are learnt and remedial action taken, it overlooks the value of all complaints as an information tool. Complaints that are not upheld may flag up different issues such as a lack of understanding of the role of COPFS or a lack of awareness of procedures or processes in the criminal justice system. Regardless of whether or not complaints are upheld, they represent statements of dissatisfaction with some part of the criminal justice system and an assessment of such complaints could identify misapprehensions that could be clarified or resolved through the provision of information or clearer signposting in the complaints policy of areas over which COPFS has no control.
178. There are examples where COPFS actions and policies have been influenced by complaints:
- Recognising that communication (failing to reply to correspondence/telephone calls) is a recurring complaint, COPFS is undertaking a scoping exercise on implementing a centralised correspondence unit to prioritise dealing with all forms of communication and is considering adding a member of legal staff to the Enquiry Point;
- The Communications Board are using feedback from complaints to inform corporate messaging and update the content of the COPFS website;
- COPFS has recently set up a Case Review Group to examine cases where difficulties have arisen to ensure that the relevant learning is identified and disseminated and any systematic issues are rectified. Cases are referred for consideration in a number of ways, including via complaints. 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.
179. However, the approach is not systematic. Neither the Operational nor Executive Boards maintain a register of themes, actions taken, lessons learnt and outcomes. It is noteworthy that from the sample of complaints reviewed, there were only four cases (5%) where the response to the complainant indicated that there would be a change to COPFS policy or other organisational change.
180. COPFS has not identified any key indicators aimed at measuring performance or driving improvements or articulated what constitutes "success" in terms of complaints handling, e.g. increasing the number of complaints dealt with at first contact or a reduction in the number of complaints on a particular aspect of service such as failure to reply.
181. There is an opportunity for the Operational Boards to work with the new Head of Engagement and Information and the Customer Service Champion to develop a meaningful and useful reporting format which will allow COPFS to learn from complaints in a systematic manner and drive forward service improvements across COPFS.
Recommendations 13, 14 and 15
The remits of the COPFS Operational Boards should include a specific reference to monitoring and learning from complaints.
COPFS should introduce a system to record, analyse and report on complaint outcomes, trends and improvement actions.
COPFS should establish a set of key performance indicators to measure complaints handling performance and drive improvements.