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Police Paperwork

Volume 542: debated on Tuesday 20 March 2012

4. What assessment he has made of the effect on prosecutions of the roll-out of the streamlined process in (a) Northamptonshire and (b) England in reducing police paperwork and in summarising key evidence to a high standard. [R] (100655)

In 2011 the Crown Prosecution Service reviewed about 900 files across all 43 police force areas in England and Wales, including Northamptonshire, to assess compliance with the streamlining process. All CPS areas, and the police, have since been advised of what further work is required of them to reduce paperwork and ensure that key evidence is identified and summarised effectively.

I declare my interest as a special constable with the British Transport police. The aim of the streamlining process is to reduce the police time required to prepare effective prosecution files while reducing the cost to the public purse. What steps can my right hon. and learned Friend take to highlight best practice, in order to encourage the police forces that are falling behind the curve?

First, I commend my hon. Friend for the work that he does as a special constable. The idea behind the streamlining process was precisely to achieve better practice. Performance in terms of the way in which the police have responded to it is variable. Some police forces have responded very well indeed, and the reviews suggest that they are applying the measures correctly; others appear to have more difficulty. If they have more difficulty, that means that they are spending unnecessary time over-preparing files. The Crown Prosecution Service is committed to working with every police force to try to ensure that best practice can be rolled out, and we will continue to do that, and to conduct periodic reviews to see how the process is progressing.

The Attorney-General has mentioned the huge variation between police forces, as did the National Audit Office last year. Is it possible to iron out those differences to ensure a common standard? Is any research being carried out to examine whether the process is leading to different outcomes—for example, in relation to guilty or not guilty pleas, or even to final sentencing?

In human affairs, achieving the complete elimination of all disparities might be rather difficult, but more could certainly be done to reduce them, and that is what we are striving to do. I will go away and check whether we can draw any specific conclusions from the process. Clearly, if people overburden themselves it will take up more time, and it could lead to a case not being properly presented, because the amount of material involved could hamper the presentation of the prosecution. I am afraid that I am not in a position to tell the hon. Gentleman whether statistics can show that the problem is leading to cases failing when they might otherwise have succeeded, for example—but it is clearly undesirable, and we must do what we can to help the police to make their lives easier.