Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 20-39)



  20. I do not want to go down the asylum route too far because we will come back to that later. Can I just turn to the target for offenders, not just for young offenders? We got the impression from the Home Office that the target that was to be set for March 2001 has been delayed. When do you think that target will be set?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) I have to be clear about which particular target we are looking at. Is this about delay?

  21. Arrest to sentence for all offenders, not just the fast-tracking of young offenders.
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) No, that has not yet been set. We can give you figures for a number of the areas of delay because we have our own internal targets for that, but I think that has not yet been set.

  22. Do you have any idea when it is likely to be set?
  (Ms Rowe) We will be discussing targets with the Home Office and the CPS now in the light of the SR2002 settlements. So I would hope there will be targets set before Christmas, probably.

  23. Before Christmas?
  (Ms Rowe) I should think so.

  24. Would you say that part of the delay is because of the emphasis on getting and achieving the target in dealing with young offenders, or is that a separate issue?
  (Ms Rowe) We gave priority to the target for young offenders and a lot of resource and effort went into that, because that was seen as the most important issue to tackle. So that came first and then we are looking at the other areas.

  25. So it would have had some impact?
  (Ms Rowe) Yes, it would.
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) If I may say so, also, the setting of an overall, global target is actually a difficult exercise. We have been quite successful, I think, in setting individual targets for particular parts of the system, but taking it right from the moment when an offence is reported, as it were, or an arrest takes place, right through to the end, is quite a difficult analytical exercise to make sure you have got it right. So I think it is not just being diverted, in a sense, on to the persistent young offenders target, it is also intellectually quite demanding.

  26. Why is that?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) Because you have to try to set something which deals with the varying rhythm of work and pressures of work of, really, quite different organisations—the police, the CPS and the courts—and trying to do that and then adding up the bits is not easy. I think that is the simplest explanation.
  (Ms Rowe) There is also the case mix because you have some very long and complex cases which you know are going to take considerably longer than others, and if you try and average them out you do not necessarily get a very helpful statistic about what is really happening.

  27. Perhaps we should not be setting that type of target.
  (Ms Rowe) The sort of targets we are going to be looking at are targets for specific categories of case. That is the area where it is falling at the moment. I think that will actually be more helpful.
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) I think it is important that we have targets in areas where each of the agencies knows they can operate effectively. I personally agree with you, I think that is a better way forward than just having a global target that is not then translated down into individual targets for actions by each agency.

  28. Mr Magee, would you like to add to that?
  (Mr Magee) May I say a word about the whole system, as far as criminal justice is concerned? I am chairing a group with practitioners from each of the criminal justice agencies looking at the specific point that you mention—whether there are any of the targets that we set individually that are getting in the way of one another. As an agency chief executive I have a set of targets and a pile of cash with which to achieve those, but we want to make sure that the overriding government objectives are met rather than that parts of the system, as Sir Hayden was saying, perform well, possibly to the detriment of other parts of the system. So I have got a group together which includes representatives from each of the agencies and that reports into the strategic board that John Gieve leads and Sir Hayden and the DPP sit on. That work is at a very early stage. That is one part of it. Another part of it is this—and again it refers back to a question that was asked earlier: the word "culture" is perhaps over-used but it seems to me, as somebody who has been an operational manager for a long time, that it is not actually very helpful to people at the front-line to have rafts of targets, some of them set generally and nationally and some of them specifically and locally, that begin to get in the way of one another. I think what we have to do is listen to what local areas are saying to us about the plethora of targets and try to act on it and see whether we cannot remove some of the gratuitous target-setting that goes on. This can occur in all sorts of different ways—sometimes collecting information that may go back, we have found already, a long number of years. It is relatively easy to put a stop to all of that, but the process of engagement with people, so that they are very clear about what it is that the Government wants to achieve collectively and how it is that their part of that fits in, is a very important part of the process.

  Bridget Prentice: Thank you very much.


  29. Sir Hayden, you are a civil servant of the old school, I think. Are you not?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) If you mean I am relatively senior as a Permanent Secretary, I will take it in that sense.

  30. You have been around a long time. You will remember the days when we did not have targets.
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) Yes, I can.

  31. Do you think they are a good idea or a bad idea, in principle?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) I think, in principle, they are a good idea. The key thing is first to make sure you are really setting targets that are not just those that are measurable but those that really do produce outcomes. That is intellectually difficult. Secondly, I do believe you should keep the number small and sensible, rather than allow rafts and rafts of targets to grow. There was a period in which more and more things sprang up all over the place, producing the sort of results that Ian has described. I think we should try and get a small number, concentrate on the big picture and then try to make sure that locally, where people are delivering things on the ground, they understand what that clearly means in their particular locality and adapt for that as necessary. So I think there has been an advance here; there was a period when we had far too many and I hope now that we are reining back on that and focusing and concentrating more clearly. That partly goes to the point that was raised earlier about having them publicly explicable and not a total raft of confusion.

  32. So you think we are getting now to the point where there is a happy medium?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) I think we are moving in a better direction and we are reining the number back and focusing much more on real outcomes, rather than simply things that happen to be easily measurable, which may give you a totally partial impression of the organisation. I have discussed this with Ian Magee on a number of occasions and we have tried to make sure that in relation to the court service we are concentrating on things that really matter and not just getting people to count things because they are easy to count.

  33. Do you think the Treasury understands that?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) Yes, I think they do understand that now. Certainly they have taken the view, I think, in the SR2002 spending round that we should progressively try to limit the number of key targets, particularly the ones that are published and to which we are publicly accountable. I am sure that is right.

  34. How did it all get so out of control?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) I think in the early days, when people were told they had to have targets, people got it into their heads—and I think this is true in departments and, probably, in the Treasury—that the more you had the more points you got. I think there was a real sense in which that grew up. Talking about the over-use of the word "culture", there was a period in which that was the culture. I do not know whether Ian, from his experience, confirms this as a true record or it is just my prejudice. I think the next phase was one of people saying to themselves "Well, are these the real targets that matter?" Often it turned out that they did not, they were just there to tick the box to show you had done it. Now I think we are into a phase where we are saying "First of all let us choose the targets that really do matter and, secondly, let us really limit their number to those things that are absolutely essential to government policy."
  (Mr Magee) I have worked in three very different executive agencies since 1989—nowhere else but executive agencies—and what I observe is this: (a) that what Sir Hayden says is right and (b), that that is, in some part, down to a maturity of approach that did not exist, candidly, in the beginning. There was a sense, when one first went into executive agencies, that the centre of the department was targeting the easily measurable and we all know that you get what you measure. So it was not a particularly difficult job in those days for agency chief executives worth their salt to meet those targets. Whether it made a difference to what it was that we were really committed to, which was improving significantly the service that we give to the public, was a different matter altogether. The maturity of approach comes from the centre of the department and the relationship with those on whom targets would be set, and I do believe that we have made significant progress—probably exponential progress, actually—over the last four or five years.

  35. So you are reasonably confident that in two or three years' time when you come to see us we will not be told that today's targets have been amended, dropped, replaced, modified or subsumed?
  (Mr Magee) No, I cannot be reasonably confident of that for all sorts of reasons. I suppose the first one is that life moves on and things assume different degrees of priority and importance, and we have to respond to that.
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) Chairman, I will say that obviously we cannot give that guarantee but what we will try to achieve, with the Treasury, is greater consistency, year-on-year, so you do not get this swinging about, and you do not therefore get the plethora of comparisons that one has to make. I think that is a very important target to set for target-setting.

  Chairman: On that point we will conclude on targets. Thank you.

Mrs Dean

  36. Looking at delays in the courts, what are the latest figures for the time from arrest to completion for all offences?
  (Mr Magee) In the magistrates' courts from listing to completion I do have, and that is 34 days or less. That is the average.
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) I think it has come down from 35 days in 1997 to 28 days in 2001. So that is an improvement. Another figure we can give you, if it is all right, is the time taken from charge to the first listing of a case, which fell from 21 days in 1999 to eight days in 2001. So in both of those areas within the court process there has been a very substantial improvement, and you are aware of the results on persistent young offenders, where that target is met early and it is now down to 67 days. So we can give you the elements of it but not necessarily easily the overall global target.

  37. Has that trend continued since September 2001?
  (Mr Magee) Yes, as far as I am aware it has continued. I do not have the figures to hand, because I guess it will be later on this year when the annual figure becomes available.

  38. The Department's annual report describes a target which must be related to the speed with which cases are taken through the crown courts. Why was the target of maintaining the rate of 78% of Crown Court cases commencing within 16 weeks in 1999/2000 first of all "amended", then "not met" and finally "not mentioned"?
  (Mr Magee) We still do have that target, in fact. It has been a constant that we strive to clear 78% of cases within that period. The mixture of work in the Crown Court has changed pretty significantly over the last three years. For example, there are, on the whole, fewer guilty pleas now, and you can obviously dispose of a guilty plea rather more quickly. The good news on that target is that for the first months of this year—from April onwards—we are meeting that target for the first time, I think, ever in the Court Service. We are now running at 79%.

  39. Good. Turning to witnesses, it is a target to improve the service for witnesses by reducing the average waiting time and by reducing unnecessary attendance. What is the actual target for unnecessary attendances by March 2004?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) We have reduced the percentage of witnesses called but then do not give evidence, as it were, from 53% (that was in 2000) to 50% in 2001. These are small but significant changes in terms of improvement. We also have a concern about how long people have to wait at court, and the average waiting time is about an hour and 20 minutes, which is again a small improvement from before. I think they are the two main figures that are in my mind.
  (Mr Magee) I do not think that these figures are of themselves ones that should cause any complacency because we all recognise that attending court puts stress on witnesses and we have got to do our utmost to get down still further below those figures. Fifty-one per cent of all witnesses in the magistrates court are dealt with within the hour, and obviously averages disguise some much longer cases as well. It is an issue about co-operation across the criminal justice system too, because, as you will realise, it requires all agencies to come together in order to reduce that witness waiting time. We have got some measures in hand to do that. I can think of two. One is that we have introduced into the magistrates' court world a "cracked" and ineffective trials monitoring scheme. It was only introduced in April of this year and we have not got the results yet, but it will help to identify the reasons for unnecessary attendance and that will give us the opportunity to try to deal with those reasons. The second is that the Magistrates' Court Inspectorate is going to produce a thematic report on court listing practices later on this year. Obviously the results will be in the public domain. Again, that will help us look at the good and the less good, as far as listing practices are concerned, which in its turn will help with how we treat witnesses in the courts.

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