Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 1-19)




  1. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. May I welcome you, Sir Frederick. I believe this is your third time here, is it not?

  (Sir Frederick Crawford) Fourth, Chairman.

  2. I am afraid we are a bit depleted this morning—we are competing with the Queen; nevertheless, we have not done too badly. We thought we would start, if we may, by asking you some questions about waiting times. Presumably you are going to lead off, are you? How are you proposing to divide things up? What we want to avoid is four answers to every question.
  (Sir Frederick Crawford) I think I will take the brunt of it, until we get to the sex abuse part, where Dr MacKeith and David Jessel will weigh in; I will introduce that when the time comes. I will field most of the questions.

  Chairman: Other members should feel free to come in—it is just that we do not want four answers to every question—which occasionally happens, I am afraid.

Angela Watkinson

  3. Good morning, Sir Frederick. You aim to reduce the waiting time in Tray 2 by half over in the next financial year. How long is the average waiting time in Tray 2 at the moment? What target do you aim to set if you achieve this for the year 2003-04?
  (Sir Frederick Crawford) That is a very, very interesting question, because in the coming year you will see we have 199 cases in Tray 2 at 31 March,[1] and we will probably finish somewhere between 200-220 cases during the year, which means everything in Tray 2 now will be cleared; that is where that statement comes from. Basically the ones that work their way through to Tray 2 during this year will be there during the whole of the year; so the average waiting time will be six months for them. At the moment the average waiting time is about a year for in-custody cases.

  4. Can you tell us the age of the oldest in-custody and at-liberty cases that are currently awaiting review?
  (Sir Frederick Crawford) The oldest in-custody case would be February 2000; and the oldest at-liberty case would be February 1999.

  5. Have you set the Commission a goal to reduce that even further over the next financial year?
  (Sir Frederick Crawford) I say it will come down, so that both classes together, the at-liberty and the in-custody, will be averaging six months at the end of the 2002-03 year. The oldest case in the Tray will be roughly a year old then.

  6. Although the Commission has succeeded in reducing the backlog of cases awaiting review, the Court of Appeal seems to be accumulating a backlog of cases that are awaiting a hearing. Is there a risk that that is going to undermine what you are going to achieve; and should these cases be given priority in the court listings, do you think?
  (Sir Frederick Crawford) The waiting time for the Court of Appeal is about the waiting time for all cases that the Court of Appeal deals with. Last year 448 convictions were dealt with at the Court of Appeal; and their waiting time was almost exactly the same as the waiting time for our cases, which were about 280 working days; it is a little over a year. We have discussed among ourselves the question of whether our cases should be given priority, but not really conclusively—I think that is a matter for the Court of Appeal. I do not think, just because a case has been slow to come to the appeal, that it is necessarily the fault of the Court of Appeal. We have just finished the hearing last week of the Hanratty case and we submitted that to the Court over three years ago—three years and a few weeks. I do not think the Court of Appeal is responsible for that at all. There are problems with the lawyers and the prosecution getting their cases together; so separating out what is the Court of Appeal and what is the CPS and the defence delaying it is something. Once the case has left us we do not follow that through.

  7. Much depends on the complexity, I imagine.
  (Sir Frederick Crawford) The complexity of the case, and availability of the lawyers. They may be mixed up, for example, in the Bloody Sunday hearing and slow to come to the Hanratty case.


  8. It still takes about two years for an in-custody case that is going anywhere to reach the top of the pile, is that right?
  (Sir Frederick Crawford) At the moment it is two years; and next March 31, all being well, it will be one year at the most. You should not forget that the average delay between conviction and a case coming to us is already three and a half years.

  9. That makes the case for urgency all the greater, does it not, if you are sitting in a prison cell with not much else to think about; and, given the fact you might perhaps have to wait another year or more to reach the appeal court, you might have served much of your sentence by that time?
  (Sir Frederick Crawford) That is right. If they are getting full remission, it would have to be a fairly long sentence for them not to be out.

  10. In which case, they would fall into the at-liberty pile?
  (Sir Frederick Crawford) Only if they are released before we start their case. We do not transfer them if they are in custody then.

  11. It is taking, what, nearly three years with an at-liberty case?
  (Sir Frederick Crawford) That is quite deliberate. At one time (and I am going back a couple of years now) we were not looking at any at-liberty cases, other than in Stage 1 (for eligibility); when the Screen came at first we did the in-custodies; then, as we began to catch up, we began to treat them the same. If we had gone on indefinitely, not looking at the at-liberties at Stage 2, then we would be right back to 1997 still. A year or so ago we decided we would not let the difference between them be more than one year. That is why it is exactly two years when the at-liberties are exactly three.

  12. What would you anticipate the at-liberties coming down to eventually?
  (Sir Frederick Crawford) Eventually—if "eventually" is 31 March 2005—I should think it will be down to a few months.

  13. You are confident that that is the way things are going?
  (Sir Frederick Crawford) Yes. I am afraid you get into a tricky set of technical problems when you get a small queue; because, in the end, how short the queue is depends on what bottlenecks you have got. If, for example, it takes you three months to get files from the Court of Appeal (if that were the average) then you would never have a queue of less than three months. That is an important bottleneck for us, and we do have an IT project from the Invest to Save programme of £350,000 to develop an electronic transfer system for files from the Court of Appeal. When you have got a very long queue, bottlenecks do not matter because they are shorter than the length of the queue. We are now getting to the stage where we are beginning to feel the bottlenecks; and how short the queue can be in the end depends on two things: first, how many bottlenecks you can remove; and, second, how many extra CRMs you are going to have beyond the number that will just cope with the intake. If you have a number of Case Review Managers which is exactly equal to the volume of work that comes in, in the intake, the queue will grow for ever. You must always have more CRMs than are needed to cope with the incoming cases. If you have got enough extra CRMs the queue can be zero.

  14. Following your last appearance here a lot of extra money was made available, was it not?
  (Sir Frederick Crawford) It actually preceded it by a couple of weeks.

Mrs Dean

  15. Turning to the number of Case Review Managers, your goal of reducing the complement to 30, is that realistic given that you expect them to take on additional tasks such as data-analysis and record management?
  (Sir Frederick Crawford) I have tried to be careful in the way I have written it,[2] and say that 30 is the number that would be needed to cope with the incoming cases; it does not take account of the files—the fact that after five years we will have to review the files (and we have just got to five years). We do not know what legislation is coming along—whether the Auld Report will influence this, and that is only a small part of the legislation; lots of other things that happen affect us on the finance side and slow us down in many other ways: the human rights legislation; the impact of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act, which came into force on 1 April 1997; those are working through the system, and we do not know. The 30 would be to cope with the incoming cases. As I said a moment or two ago, you will actually need slightly more than that, otherwise the queue will grow to infinity. How short the queue is depends on how many extra you have. There may be two or three CRMs there, and you need them to do these extra tasks that I have mentioned. One of the tasks we have never been able to take up, because we have been overwhelmed by the caseload, is that it is perfectly in order for us to go out looking for cases in certain classes where there may have been miscarriages, and to look for cases that have not been presented to us. We have never had time to do that; but there are classes of cases, possibly even in the child abuse area which we will come to later on, where we could go out actively to look for possible miscarriages. That could take up some extra CRMs.

  16. What number do you think you would be looking at rather than 30?
  (Sir Frederick Crawford) It is very hard to estimate that. If 30 was the minimum I doubt if you would need more than, say, one or two to take care of the files—certainly not in the first few years; because the files will reflect the rate at which we were completing cases—so a couple of hundred in the first year, 500 in the second and then 1,000, 1,100 and 1,200; so it is four or five years from now when the biggest peak would be and then it would go down again. My guess is that it might be two or three CRMs for that. You might need an extra two or three to be above the minimum, to cope with the caseload, but they can use some of their spare time, the free time they have when not helping with the caseload, to do these other jobs. It is very, very hard, and I cannot tell what the intake is going to be in three years' time. As I pointed out, it has gone up very slightly in the last three years from 777, to 800, to 834.[3] Is that a trend? I do not know.

  17. What is the current salary range for caseworkers and Case Review Managers at the moment?
  (Sir Frederick Crawford) It is about £24,000 to about £32,300, with an average of £28,600.

  18. Is that sufficient to recruit and retain staff?
  (Sir Frederick Crawford) I can only think of a fairly lengthy answer to that! The extent to which we want to retain staff is a very important question. In the past when I have been sitting at this Committee the question has been raised as to whether after a time there would be a certain element of staleness for CRMs. I think the expression the Chairman used in December 1998 was that there might be "a culture of disbelief" if you are working on cases and only 1:30, or something like that, eventually ends up with a conviction quashed; maybe there would be some tiredness. Towards the back of the memorandum, I have given you my view of how I set up the Commission, how it was designed. My view of it then was that it was a development opportunity and not a career. It would always be a fairly small organisation. With growth of experience, and perhaps fewer people, there would be no internal prospects of promotion; you would probably move up the learning curve in the first two or three years. Therefore, although it would be advantageous to the Commission to have an extra couple of years of output, it probably would not be advantageous to the individual to stay there for a long time. What we were looking for were mainly young ambitious people—"young" in this context meaning 25-35, although our range is something like 24-59 in age; with a few ex-policemen at the top end who have retired. We look for people who would be comfortable with a three-year contract renewable once—in other words, a time horizon of about six years—two or three years to learn the job, a couple to consolidate and then move to some exciting and more remunerative occupation elsewhere. The higher the salaries we set the more we are liable to retain people. The Employment Relations Act of 1999 has come along and we cannot terminate contracts after three years, or (if they are renewed) after six years, without risking a tribunal and the various legal remedies that people have if they have been removed from their jobs. That was not known at the time I set it up, and everybody does have a three-year contract renewable once but they may stay if they wish. That is one of the reasons why we did not go to 60 for the Case Review Managers, because you have to get back down again to 30. Going to 60, when you want to get to 30, will get rid of the accumulation in about two years; 50 will remove it in three. My preference was that we would stick to the 50, and then I would have a manageable task with turnover, even if people did not want to leave. There were rather complex calculations put into a very simple graph of the rundown in the very last section of the memorandum which tell you we will just about get there, whatever happens.

  19. Is that an advantage of having the old regime you have got, compared to what you envisaged in the first place?
  (Sir Frederick Crawford) I do not think so, personally, but that is not a view that is shared by all of the Commission. I believe that what we want are people who are very enthusiastic but not risk developing a culture of disbelief, or any form of tiredness or staleness, after just sifting mountains of dross to get a few nuggets now and again. Of course, there is the point that we are the biggest source for the outside world of people who have been trained and educated in the business of reviewing miscarriages of justice. There is nowhere else that covered 1,200 cases in the last year. We are a source for the rest of the Criminal Justice System.

1   See page 9 of memorandum. Back

2   See page 12 of memorandum. Back

3   See page 5 of memorandum. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 13 March 2003