IAC report praises PPS complaints system

Publication date:

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Stephen Herron has welcomed the publication of a report into the organisation’s complaints system which concluded it was a model of best practice in both complaint management and as a tool of continuous improvement.

The most recent report by the Independent Assessor of Complaints (IAC) into how the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) manages and handles complaints found that the PPS “continues to demonstrate an honest and positive institutional attitude to complaints” and that it “actively demonstrates a willingness to learn from the intelligence contained in each complaint… not just in the context of its complaint scheme, but across its entire operational policy, processes and approach and interaction with its stakeholders.”

Sarah Havlin was appointed to the role of IAC for the PPS in 2019. Independent from the prosecuting authority, Ms Havlin’s role is to investigate and report on complaints once they have been responded to fully under the internal stages of the PPS complaints process.  

Her latest Annual Report, which covers the 2021/22 financial year, examines the handling of the complaints dealt with by the PPS. During the reporting period, more than 40,000 prosecution files were submitted to the PPS and a total of 49 complaints were received, representing less than 0.1% of cases.

Of the four cases referred to the Independent Assessor, none were upheld.

She said: “My opinion of the PPS complaint process, having thoroughly reviewed its performance this year, is that the complaint system has consistently performed to a very high standard.

“I am impressed by the evidence which confirms the level and scale of change and improvement to the complaint scheme, the management of complaints, and openness to feedback which I believe has been a contributing factor to a change in culture and performance throughout the organisation. There is tangible evidence that PPS is leading the way for other justice agencies in terms of the standards of its complaint handling scheme.”

Among the conclusions recorded by the Independent Assessor were that:

  • The PPS actively listens to all complaints equally, provides a complaint system that is well structured and enables the voice of the complainant to be heard. Its people are open and courageous in accepting error and conceding where things could have been done differently.
  • The Service’s approach to complaints is embedded within corporate structures and reporting mechanisms which demonstrates a commitment to learning from complaints and treating the intelligence gained from complaints as a call to action for process improvements.
  • PPS staff are always open to reflecting on how their written and verbal communication style is perceived and how it can be improved.
  • Officials are keen to learn from different perspectives and they look for areas of common ground in a complaint, that they concede points where they can, and show willingness to do this at the earliest stages of dealing with a grievance.
  • The PPS has implemented several changes to policy and process as a direct result of learning from complaints and improvement recommendations which the IAC has put forward over the last three years.

The Independent Assessor also outlined a number of further suggestions for improvement. These included the gathering of feedback from key stakeholders to better understand the most common complaint themes and to reinforce learning.

DPP Stephen Herron welcomed the publication. He said: “This report provides a very detailed and balanced overview, highlighting those aspects of our complaint handling arrangements that are working well, while also identifying areas we can target to improve our approach.

“I welcome the positive comments the Independent Assessor has made regarding our performance, and the fact that the organisation has improved year on year in terms of its culture and practice. Importantly, the report highlights that we have demonstrated increasing willingness to learn from the intelligence contained in each complaint, using the complaint scheme as a driver for organisational learning and as part of our overall quality assurance process.

“It is vital that we continue to look at complaints in a positive and constructive way, acknowledging the accountability of the organisation. it is testament to the professionalism of PPS staff that the number of complaints we receive remains low and I would like to take this opportunity to thank all staff for their commitment over this period.”


Notes to Editors

1. The full report can be found on the PPS website. 

2. For further information on how to make a complaint about the service provided, please read the guidance and key information booklet in the complaints section of our website