Committed to enhancing justice: How CPS used innovation to create a revolutionary Case Management System
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) prosecutes criminal cases that have been investigated by the police and other investigative organizations in England and Wales. It makes its decisions independently of the police and government.
CPS’ mission is to discover innovative ways to save time, improve intelligence, and reduce wrong prosecutions from case errors. As the nature of crime continually evolves, CPS consistently adapts, with digital capability forming the foundational pillar of its response and commitment to enhancing justice.
esynergy partnered with CPS to modernize its infrastructure and create a more efficient Case Management System (CMS). This collaboration aimed to accelerate CPS’s digital transformation, improve prosecution rates, and reduce its case backlog. The central focus for the project was to find a viable technical solution for seamless connection to the CMS, enabling users to easily review, redact, and search case records.
The project commenced with a discovery phase, where the teams identified the complexities in managing two separate CMS. A crucial step involved rapid prototyping and highly specific user research (UR) to pinpoint issues faced by CMS users and assess if these problems were recurring patterns within CPS. The existing case management process relied on a browser-based CMS application with an Oracle database backend and a Microsoft ASP.NET frontend. Accessing case data and documents within the CMS was previously restricted for third-party applications due to the sensitivity of its production data. Consequently, users had to manually redact and search cases, leading to inefficiency.
The solution, named Polaris (North Star), was developed using serverless architecture, leveraging infrastructure-as-code principles and CI/CD processes. In building the Polaris application, multiple approaches were explored to interface with the legacy system and connect to the CMS.
Upon realizing that direct CMS endpoint connection was impossible, the teams responded innovatively by pivoting and building their own CMS integration called DDEI (Direct Document Extraction and Ingestion). Taking ownership of an internal digital product and its infrastructure marked a first for CPS. The approach revolved around the reuse of API interfaces already exposed by the legacy application. System analysis identified well-structured and stable GraphQL and SOAP APIs integrated into the CMS. To streamline access, a RESTful API was developed to serve as a controlled facade over these existing APIs.
I love it. Absolutely brilliant… That would save us huge amounts of time. Immediately I feel more secure in working……far less likely that it would result in a security breach."
The collaborative effort resulted in a revolutionary system being built, pioneering the strangler pattern approach within CPS with best-of-breed software engineering practices. Some of the outcomes are listed below;
- A fully cloud-native technology solution
- Automated CI/CD pipelines
- Agile ways of working were implemented
- Collaborative UR approaches were scalable at great speed
- 100% test automation
- Azure DevOps pipelines were introduced
- Azure and its components were utilized for central text extraction and search indexing functionalities
- IaC was introduced and coded using Terraform
- End-to-end integration and penetration testing
By improving the case management process, CPS has realized new value from its new CMS;
Reusing existing facilities to unblock project development due to lengthy timeframes imposed by the third-party supplier.
Transforming data structure
Transforming the data structure returned by the underlying legacy API, DDEI can now present an optimized API surface to the remainder of the Polaris solution.
Reusing existing CMS APIs has resulted in the load on the underlying system imposed by a user using Polaris closely matching the load if the user was directly using CMS for the equivalent task.
Utilizing DDEI as a layer on top of the existing CMS functionality, the uptime is equivalent to the CMS application.
Operations made by Polaris users via DDEI flow through existing APIs and so are subject to identical audit logging as when the same operations are made through CMS.
Reusing existing APIs in new ways releases extra value from historical investments made by CPS.
Scalable use of the cloud allows for changes in traffic demand.
As a point of abstraction with an agreed data contract with downstream systems, DDEI could be replaced by a purpose-built API at a later point, without needing to change any other parts of the Polaris solution. DDEI is already demonstrating itself as a key enabler for CPS to extricate itself from its incumbent legacy case management system, democratizing access to key data held in that and other key strategic applications are already depending on DDEI.
Working with esynergy to develop Polaris has been a substantial step forward for CPS. It has simplified our case management process, making it more efficient and user-centred. This development not only represents a technical advancement through Agile methodology at scale, but showcases a successful collaboration where we leveraged existing APIs to deliver a solution that meets our current needs, while providing a framework for future digital products and innovations."
Head of Digital Solutions & Innovation, CPS
In addition to providing added value, the new CMS has unquestionably played a crucial role in supporting CPS in their mission to achieve justice efficiently. A prime example of this support can be seen in the significant time savings benefiting CMS users when reviewing cases. On average, users save eleven minutes per case review and thirteen minutes when redacting each case. This translates to an estimated one-hour daily timesaving for prosecutors. From a recent benefits analysis, Polaris is expected to save pre-charge review activity 60,953 hours per year and 51,098 hours per year for post-charge review activity. This is a total annual saving of over 112,000 hours and given the substantial user base of 3,000 daily users, the impact on prosecution rates is expected to be significant.
On average, it takes me about 15 minutes to triage a case using classic CMS, whereas if I'm using Polaris, it's probably like 5-6 sort of minutes to check through everything. It's much quicker because in Classic you have to click view to open every document and it's quite slow sometimes and then you have to click again to open the link [...] whereas this is just right in front of you.”
"Polaris has really helped me being able to see everything all there in one place and having all the documents available straight away. It basically halves the amount of time I have to take per case. It's been amazing since I've used it."
However, Polaris represents more than just the creation of a groundbreaking system. It has fostered innovative WoW within CPS, and its API has been reused in other projects. An example of this is DDEI’s consumption for email automation which is expected to save the operations team 24,864 hours per year.
Today, the service is fully accessible throughout CPS, and the spirit of innovation continues to thrive. Current plans include integrating Polaris with CPS’s redaction log system, which will automate a previously intrusive and time-consuming process for CMS users. Additionally, there are future endeavors to harness AI to enhance the redaction process through automated user suggestions.
Polaris also holds a promising avenue for enhancing CPS’s Video Review Service (VRS), aimed at simplifying video access for lawyers. Through extensive UR, it was revealed that lawyers invest a considerable amount of time in video evidence review. The current VRS suffers from several pain points, including:
- Conversion Hassles: Some videos require conversion before lawyers can access them
- Sluggish Video Retrieval: Locating the right videos is sluggish and demands substantial cognitive effort due to a subpar UX
- Trust Issues: There is a lack of trust in the existing CMS, leading lawyers to save their notes elsewhere
- Data Privacy Checks: Lawyers bear the responsibility of ensuring videos do not contain personally identifiable information, making the process slow and laborious
By harnessing the capabilities of Polaris, we anticipate a reduction in the time lawyers need to spend on video discovery and access. This, in turn, will elevate lawyer satisfaction and confidence during the review process. This opportunity stands to deliver significant time savings for CPS’s legal team, enabling them to clear the substantial backlog more swiftly and, consequently, expedite the pursuit of justice.