In its annual health check of the CPS, inspectors found the Code for Crown Prosecutors was applied correctly in respect of each charge directed at the charging stage in 93.5% of all 2,191 cases sampled, compared with 90.9% in 2011-12. “Whilst this is better, the proportion of correct decisions still needs to improve further,” noted the report.

Performance in Crown Court cases was at 94%, an improvement on the previous year (92.6%). The findings also showed that, overall, the quality of decision-making is better in cases involving allegations of rape, with the code applied correctly at charging stage in 98% of cases.

Prosecutors only had an effective oversight of cases as they went through the court process in just over half the cases examined (53.7%), however. In many units, contested cases were being prepared only a few days before the trial and committal, or sent cases reviewed or prepared often on the day before that set down for the committal or service of the prosecution case.

Pressures observed by inspectors in case progression units “could be reduced by improving the effectiveness of trial preparation processes [including] ensuring that weak cases are either stopped at an early stage or remedial action taken to improve the strength of the evidence,” said the inspectors.

The report acknowledged reducing budgets and resources – “it is probable that the CPS will look very different by the end of the next business year” – although overall caseload had fallen. Despite the number of full-time staff being reduced from 7,087 to 6,816 over 2012-13, the inspectors identified an “overriding issue”, namely that the CPS has more crown advocates “than it requires for its business need”.

In a follow-up review of the handling of custody time limits by the CPS, reported administrative failures had declined from 50 for the year to March 2011, to seven reported up to February 2013.