THAMES Valley’s Crown Prosecution Service is one of the worst performing in the country.
A damning report into the CPS division, which handles prosecutions at Oxfordshire’s crown and magistrates’ courts, has highlighted failings that include losing too many trials, bad decision-making and problems with domestic violence cases.
The majority of its key performance standards during 2012-13 were worse than the national average, the report by the Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate found.
The report said: “Performance in Thames Valley compares unfavourably with other CPS units across the country.”
One major problem is decisions made before a suspect is charged.
While many of these are made by an outside agency, Thames Valley staff were then failing to pick up problems early enough.
This was leading to Thames Valley being 41st out of 42 CPS units in either not getting a guilty plea or a conviction (called attrition) at a trial for magistrates’ cases and 38th in crown court cases.
Decisions by police or in-house prosecutors had met the required standard.
The report said: “Thames Valley unit’s performance has been poor in respect of attrition, particularly in magistrates’ court outcomes.”
On domestic violence cases, the report said Thames Valley’s record was “alarming” and added: “The unit has a particular challenge in dealing effectively with its caseload of domestic violence prosecutions.
“Its own performance data in July 2013 ranked the unit 42nd out of 42 CPS units for the rate of discontinuance.”
Defence lawyer Jan Matthews, of Reeds solicitors, said: “Justice cannot be done when cases are not being looked at properly. As a result of that guilty people are walking free and the innocent are going through the courts for much longer than they should be.”
The CPS refused to answers any questions on the report.
In a press release, Adrian Foster, the new chief crown prosecutor for CPS Thames and Chiltern, said: “We are determined to improve our performance and enhancements and adjustments have been and will continue to be made to address the issues raised in the report.
“We have made excellent progress to introduce digital working and have recently moved to our new structure of centralised hubs to strip out duplication, streamline our processes, make best use of our resources, and increase resilience.
“We have a clear focus and are engaged in an ongoing process to improve the quality of service we provide to the public and victims and witnesses in particular.”
Oxford Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre service manager Natalie Brook was worried that low conviction rates meant victims were not achieving justice.
Thames Valley CPS is part of a larger area that includes Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. Inspectors said they did not want Thames Valley’s “performance weaknesses” to infect the other divisions.
Thames Valley had brought down waiting times for trial at magistrates, inspectors found.
They added there were signs managers were now tackling staff failings properly.