Thursday, July 23, 2009

The "OBM"

As promised, I now move to a review of the infamous "OBM", following hot on the heels of my last post -- the anger has carried me through the evening, my faithful companion has long since started dozing on the sofa, all four legs stretched out, looking like a smaller, less stripy version of that ultimate colonial trophy, a large dead-stripy-animal-rug.

The Optimum Business Model, which is so far proving somewhat sub-optimal, is as follows. Rather than having a number of lawyers each being responsible for a number of files, according to specialism (stop giggling at the back), talent (I mean it), working hours (right, stand outside), the CPS has decided, after lengthy and expensive consideration, that the best thing to do, is to not allocate any files at all. So we all toddle off to court three days a week, and on the fourth day, we sit at a desk known as the OBM desk. To one side is a pile of files, all with varying amounts of work required. To the other, an efficient team of crack administrators (who said you could come back in?).

I dump myself into the sagging chair (you need a back complaint to get a decent chair out of this lot) and begin. I may need to respond to a defence letter, I may have to decide whether to proceed with a prosecution when a victim doesn't want to know, I may have to decide whether to apply for a witness summons, I may have to serve primary disclosure, or I may even have to dewarn witnesses because Billy has now remembered that yes, despite his complicated and involved story about Shandeece and Tyrone's big bust up, and why the baby had its ears pierced, and why he ain't done nuffink, he did as a matter of fact punch Johnny and nick his shiny iPod, and would like to have some credit for owning up to it and pleading guilty six months later and three days before the trial, please.

Of course, under what I will call a "traditional" work allocation system, as used in defence firms the length and breadth of the country, I would be at least familiar with a file, and simple queries can be resolved in seconds. Under the OBM, life becomes one endless round of surprises. So I get a letter saying "We represent Fred Splebbins, and note that Jane Splebbins has made a withdrawal statement. Do you intend to proceed with this prosecution? I would be grateful to hear from you by return".

Under the traditional system, I know that I intend full well to continue, because the police saw her injuries, 19 year old Son of Splebbins saw the whole thing, and has had enough of Dad smacking Mum about when he's had a few. Or that I have to throw my hand in because we have no case beyond Mum's bare assertion (and accompanying 10-page list of pre-cons for perverting the course of justice and wasting police time).

So I need to read the file from cover to cover, because I know nothing about it. I need to consider Fred's antecedents, the family circumstances, Jane's views and antecedents, and if I decide we should carry on, I need to know whether we can do without her (considering, of course, recent ECHR and House of Lords jurisprudence on hearsay and victimless prosecutions), or whether I should compel her to attend by way of summons or even warrant.

Which, as you can imagine, adds ever so slightly to my workload. Unsurprised, of course, is the weary defence hack, explaining the basis of an offered plea to the sixth prosecutor to have touched the file.

But what about the coalface? Where intellects collide, or at least bump gently into ignorance, before drifting off into indifference? When I trot up to the local court, have I had the privilege to see any of the briefs I am about to prosecute? Err, no. Sorry, Director. But on the bright side, picking things up at the last minute is excellent practice, and sharpens the mind, or so I'm told.

And the fifth day, of course, is reserved for Crown Court casework, which, for the time being, is allocated properly, and therefore (usually) done properly.

P.S. the old hands will remember "team working", which was the OBM by any other name, and was binned a few years back, and any hands will remember "cradle to the grave", which was a traditional allocation system, and was being pushed as recently as two years ago. Round and round we go...


  1. After just two 'substantive' posts I am beginning to deeply sympathise with you. My memories of the early days of the CPS seem like a well oiled machine in comparison (despite the odd file going astray, we at least had the files the night before generally although there was no 'allocated' reviewing lawyer as such so perhaps things were not that much different as many hands could have their fingers in the ca change as they say)

    At the moment we still get lots of 'I am not the reviewing lawyer on the case your worships so may I just make a call before you (entirely justifiably) throw this out cos something has fallen through a very large crack...' Presumably the cracks will be getting larger but there will be no one 'back at the office' now to blame...

    And I sincerely hope the 'associate prosecutors'will not be expected to do their stint at the OBM desk

  2. You might try telephoning the chap who last handled the file.

    Of course that will only work this time round, and pretty soon the next guy will be telephoning you.

    Best wishes for the blog - you've made a marvellous start.

  3. This is insane. I can only think that the person who designed this system had decided to solve the problem of prison overcrowding at a stroke, by ensuring nobody would ever be successfully prosecuted again...

  4. Very pleased to have you blogging. Plase keep it up.

    How you guys manage to stand in court and go head to head with a defence bod who knows his file back to front is beyond me. I often want to strangle CPS lawyers who send me case taskings three pages long that I know will never be needed, but I am often impressed by your ability to assimilate information quickly (and ability to then concoct a reason not to charge).

    Back in the station, each response officer has his or her 'case load' for which they are responsible (or not as the case may be). I imagine this is what used to happen in your office. Why was this changed?

    Next time you need to know what is going on with a file quickly, call the poor PC who made the arrest / put the initial file together. Speaking to anyone else is often like a game of chinese wispers. You will also be speaking to the weakest link who buggered it all up to start with.

    It often seems easier to get a positive charging decision from CPS direct than from the prosecutor in the station (on the rare occations I need a charging decision between 10am and 4pm on a weekday). I imagine that this is because the prosecutor in the police station runs the risk of being the poor sod stood in court with the file in his hand, where as the bod on the end of the fax machine does not run that risk (assuming they are out of the force area), so will advise charging in cases where prosecution might be slightly harder.

    With this in mind, it seems likely that the worse things get in your office, the less inclined prosecutors will be to advise charging on cases where the evidence is more subtle, or requires a more involved reading of the file. Thus the evidential bar is set higher and higher as things get worse and worse in the CPS???


  5. I used to work for HMRC (Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs) and they've made the same change within the last five years - instead of getting a set of cases (i.e. individuals) to work and follow through, the work has been broken down into tasks - trying for an assembly line approach.
    It doesn't work.

  6. Interesting, is it not, that Crown Court work is handled by traditional tried and trusted methods. Could it have anything to do with the fact that judges will have a lot more to say about ill prepared cases than magistrates?

  7. southlondonjp - there are no plans as yet to stick APs on the OBM desk, the CPS would rather the government pushed through the extended powers, let them do trials, and keep lawyers out of the mags, and doing casework. Watch this space.

    cityexile - I agree entirely, it is insane.

    Martin - a blog post about CPSD is in the pipeline...

    Matthew - Revenue and Customs Prosecution Office has now been absorbed by the CPS, hence this PPS rubbish. "Assembly line" indeed. No-one has noticed that every case is different, it seems.

    David - I think that the official view is that as the volume is lower (98% of offences never leave the mags) in the Crown Court, and the offences are more serious, closer supervision is justifiable.

    Magistrates and judges alike are becoming rather more robust in their case management hearings. Indictments are being quashed on a regular basis, and committals are being discharged equally regularly.

  8. Are you serious that this is how the CPS organises its case allocation??

    It is insane and would, I'm pretty sure, lead to a sudden and complete breakdown in confidence between lawyer and client if it were implimented in a private firm!!

    Great blog so far - am enjoying it a lot.

  9. It is sadly strongly suspected that the beautiful prosecution file I have put together over the course of approximately 30 hours including, all the bad character evidence you could eat, lovingly crafted roti's, 5 separate continuity statements from me alone and all else that goes along with the upgrade request from CPS, is simply picked up by a prosecutor when they walk in to court.

    It honestly makes Police Officers furious and wonder why on earth we spend all that time putting a perfect file together only for CPS not to read it properly.

    I won't even get in to the other things like no face to face advice any more (no idea why we have to phone their office). The fact that pre interview I can't speak to CPS any more because they won't speak to me without an MG3 and SDN.

    This should be an excellent blog and hopefully one which will help us all understand the sheer lunacy of most of the criminal justice system.

  10. Only just caught up with this. Not just insane, utterly and completely so. It also explains the increase in poorly presented cases I have noticed in the mags court where I sit.

    I shall certainly become more robust in case management matters.

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  12. I think it's pretty sad to listen to a CPS lawyer post a blog like this, bringing our organisation into disrepute. Fortunately (for you) you are being anonymous otherwise you should rightly face disciplinary proceedings for something like this.

    The CPS is not perfect but it has excellent prosecutors and indeed APs and Administrators that you denigrate. There were no 'good old days', the IT systems in the CPS are much better than they were and our standing with the courts is better than it has ever been.

  13. Ed (not Bystander)January 23, 2011 at 6:11 AM

    Why are you Anonymous, Anonymous?

    And do you think anybody respects the CPS?