UK: A SUITABLE CASE FOR DEVOLUTION - THE CROWN PROSECUTION SERVICE. - Barbara Mills explains the radical changes made by the CPS to match its core business more closely with the responsibility of staff at all levels.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Barbara Mills explains the radical changes made by the CPS to match its core business more closely with the responsibility of staff at all levels.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is a government department which carries out most of the criminal prosecutions in England and Wales. These currently number about one and a half million every year. As director of Public Prosecutions, I head the CPS which has a staff of approximately 6,000 employees. Some 2,200 are lawyers, making the CPS the largest employer of lawyers in the country. We have 140 offices and service all the magistrates' courts and crown courts. Despite its diffuse establishment, the CPS is a national service and consistent standards of decision-making are required.

It is now eight years since the CPS took over prosecutions from the patchwork of police prosecution departments. Recently, it has made very radical changes to try to match its core business more closely with its structure and the roles and responsibilities of staff at all levels.

When I joined the CPS in 1992, I found that headquarters dominated the 31 areas (this number arose from historical alignment with police force boundaries). To organise a board meeting of chief crown prosecutors and headquarters staff was almost impossible. Too many casework decisions were being made away from the areas concerned and there was over-centralisation in matters of personnel and finance.

An enduring theme of central initiatives over the past decade has been the need to devolve accountability to the level at which decisions are actually taken and control is exercised. A project for devolution was necessary.

In order to devolve responsibility we had to make sure that the areas were created, structured and staffed in a manner in which they could take on their new responsibilities, yet still enable the core business of the service to be performed. We formed a directors' management group, consisting of myself and five chief officers, which took on the task of organising the restructuring of the CPS. We divided the country into 13 areas, including London (although London had to be treated differently because of its exceptional position). Our aim was to ensure a parity in casework, courts and branch offices wherever possible, taking account of geography and police-force boundaries.

Each new area had to be equipped with a headquarters and staff with appropriate managerial skills and experience, as well as the required expertise in casework. The CPS was fortunate to be able to import personnel who had previous experience of dealing with large budgets from other government departments to become area administrators. Similar experience was obtained in the personnel field. The remainder of the area headquarters was drawn from redeployed CPS staff.

Headquarters and its role have also been reviewed, and further changes will be made where necessary as a prerequisite for further effective devolution. But devolution cannot take place until the area are ready. This involves ensuring that restructuring has taken root and that the necessary information systems have been developed and implemented. Headquarters will continue to have an important role in monitoring, defining policy and operational practices; reviewing and advising on casework standards; and retaining that portion of casework which is too specialist to devolve.

Most areas have eight branches. The branch is the key operational unit for local delivery of our service. We looked at the organisation, structure and location of branches and found lawyers, clerks and administrative staff operating sequentially rather than synchronised as a team. Team working is currently being piloted in a number of branches. Although some practical problems have been encountered, I am confident that, with hard work, we will arrive at the optimum mix of size and skills. I believe that team working will enable us to achieve the right balance between quality work and value for money.

In order to meet future needs for managers, we have established developing centres for middle management, with intensive short residential courses. The staff-appraisal scheme has undergone radical changes to make it more meaningful, and a senior staff-assessment panel has been established to locate and select the appropriately talented employees for promotion. Female staff are given every encouragement to come forward for consideration for the development centre and short secondments.

Apart from the initial decisions on areas, all proposals have been the subject of extensive consultation with staff and the three unions. Dedicated teams have visited areas to explain the restructuring and to answer questions. Bulletins have been sent to every member of staff at each stage of the restructuring and they each receive a weekly bulletin keeping them informed about all issues which affect the service. Although change brings worries as to how the individual will be affected, all staff to whom I have talked have agreed that the changes were necessary. I would like to pay tribute to all our staff for the magnificent way in which they have responded to the challenges.

I now look forward to a period of consolidation in the structure of our areas so that we can concentrate on ensuring high standards in our core business of casework, decision-making and court presentation.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

How to use workplace conflict to your advantage

But beware the festering feud.

Efficient chickens, less stuff, more optimism: The real way to address climate change ...

What is dematerialisation, and why does it matter?

The 5 behaviours of charismatic leaders

How to become more inspirational (without having a personality transplant).

When should you step down as CEO?

Bob Iger's departure poses an unpopular question for bosses.

The death and resurrection of the premium customer

Top-end service is no longer at the discretion of the management.

What HS2 can teach you about project failure

And how you can prevent projects going astray.