A case management system implemented by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has led to a reduction in the number of discontinued court cases - meaning more offenders are being brought to justice.
In England and Wales, the CPS takes about 1.2 million cases to court each year, ranging from violent crime to fraud. Effective information management is essential for the CPS to do its job but the task can be so onerous the system has struggled.
In 2001, the CPS Inspectorate found 1,800 defendants a year in London were set free after serious charges against them were dropped because the cases were not ready for court.
At the time, inspection of CPS London found "serious shortcomings in casework, which were founded on weaknesses both in procedures and systems and in management".
Since then, the CPS has implemented a new case management system, which has received the green light from its fifth Gateway review by the Office of Government Commerce. This final Gateway review makes a government department or agency demonstrate the impact of an IT system already in use.
Together with changes to working practices, the new system seems to have produced the right results. In the past two years, the number of discontinued cases fell by 19% and unsuccessful outcomes in magistrates courts fell by 17%. Meanwhile, unsuccessful outcomes in crown courts fell by 5% to 24%.
According to the CPS, efficient working and better quality case preparation enabled by the functionality of the Compass case management system have contributed to these improvements.
The Compass programme, developed in partnership with LogicaCMG since 2001, uses technology to support CPS staff in bringing more offenders to justice. The programme provides a national IT network, desktop computer hardware and case management software tools to some 8,000 CPS staff in 42 CPS areas throughout England and Wales.
At the core of this programme lies the Compass case management system, which was developed and implemented in 2003 by LogicaCMG.
But more than any technical achievement or management metric, it is the reaction of CPS staff that has proven the system is a success, according to Claire Hamon, CPS director of business information systems.
"The most significant sign of success is the fact that we have got users referring to it as their system. I think that is very important," she said.
Hamon said work started on creating this sense of ownership right at the beginning of the project. The CPS surveyed the service to find the level of IT literacy and the documentation of processes in advance of the roll-out of the system.
It also involved groups representing the various professionals within the CPS - including lawyers, case managers and administrators - in designing and approving the case management system before it was rolled out.
"We had a business-led approach from the outset," said Hamon. "This is IT-enabled business change, working in partnership with CMG."
User feedback had a direct impact on system design. "We piloted the system for three months," said Hamon. "Before we rolled out the national release we changed the system in response to the pilots."
Training was another essential part of the programme. A mobile training unit taught 7,000 people how to use the system before it was introduced and users are unable to log onto the system if they have not completed the training. The CPS also trained around 2,000 staff in basic IT literacy as part of the programme.
And the system continues to evolve. Because the CPS is continually adapting to new legislation it must regularly update the system. This provides an opportunity for further improvements, said Hamon. "Now we are three or four releases in [because of changes to legislation] each release contains new changes driven by users' feedback."
By 2008 the CPS must meet the government target of electronic information sharing across the criminal justice system, including the police, courts, prisons and the probation service.
Although a pilot of a shared case management system between the police and the CPS is under way in Humberside, the challenges of national roll-out are much greater because police IT is managed by each force, rather than nationally, said Hamon.
However, with the same focus the CPS has shown on including users from the start, Hamon said he was confident of success on this front as well.
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