Examination of Witness (Questions 100
MONDAY 24 JUNE 2002
100. So it is even lower as a proportion than
the proportion of fines you are collecting.
(Sir Hayden Phillips) No. Here is another area where
breach of community penalties and warrants based on that need
to be much better enforced than they have been in the past.
101. How will you do that?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) We will need to produce a mixture
of measures of the sort we are trying now in relation to information,
to more civilian enforcement officers, to trying to get better
information about where people are, the fact that they have disappeared,
that they have gone without trace and so on. We must work very
hard on that area. We must set targets which have not been set
before in order to enable that to happen.
102. It all sounds very weak to me. They just
sound like words to me. You have already failed to collect more
than 63% of fines imposed by magistrates. You are now proposing
for those people you feel cannot afford itand you have
no idea about the financial backgrounds of those who are receiving
these fines, you have just told me you do not know what proportion
have county court judgments, you do not know what proportion of
defaulters is receiving benefits so despite a lack of knowledge
of those key areasimposing community service orders where
people do have financially straitened circumstances, yet that
has a lower proportion of enforcement even than fines. Is your
Department not in complete disarray?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) I have been given some facts
about community sentencing. About 155,000 offenders were given
community sentences in the year 2000 and I was overestimating
the failure rate: the current breach rate is about 30%, so it
is not as bad as I was implying.
103. How many people who have received community
service orders have had their sentence written off and been told
they do not need to serve it?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) I shall have to send you that.
104. Is it any? Have any been told they do not
have to serve their community service sentence and had them written
(Sir Hayden Phillips) I do not think it works quite
105. How does it work?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) What you will find here is that
it is not just a question of writing off the community penalty.
106. I thought it happened. I thought I read
somewhere that they had.
(Sir Hayden Phillips) In some way or another a person
has to complete their sentence and if they are in breach of a
community penalty on a regular basis, then the court will look
at that and decide what further penalty should be imposed. It
might be a prison sentence.
107. Could you do a note? I recall reading in
the newspaper that actually several tens of thousands of these
community service orders had been written off and that they were
not required to serve them. Could you send a note to the Committee
expanding on that? It alarms me that you are not up to speed on
that particular issue. Is your Department in disarray in terms
of enforcing penalties imposed by the judicial system?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) No, I would put it the other
way round precisely.
108. You think a 30% failure to enforce community
service orders is good, a 37% failure rate to impose fines is
(Sir Hayden Phillips) No, I am not suggesting it is
good, but I would not describe that as being in disarray. I would
say that three major decisions have been taken over the last year:
bringing together warrant execution in the responsibility of the
magistrates' courts rather than it being divided with the police
has given it a new priority; I would claim, although I think you
think there are perverse incentives here, that providing additional
resources for enforcement will make a real difference. We would
also claim that we have set up an arrangement which brings together
all those who are working on this on the ground across the country
to talk about best practice and improvement. These things have
not happened before and they are happening now. That is a positive
statement and one to be welcomed by the Committee rather than
one to be criticised.
Mr Gibb: We shall see whether you can
get up to 100%, shall we, in the next few years? I shall monitor
that with great interest.
109. It seems apparent from the answers given
to Mr Gibb and others that basically you know absolutely nothing
about the people who are defaulting. You cannot explain any of
the circumstances properly, you do not quite know how it all comes
about. All we know is that you have a computer system which is
in the process of being introduced and it has slipped back by
a year because of software problems. Could you make a stab at
trying to describe the sort of people you think are defaulters?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) I suppose it could be summed
up in the slogan "Some can't pay and some won't pay".
Clearly a large number of people, the majority, do pay. Among
those people who cannot pay are those who are less well off, have
more chaotic lifestyles. Among those who will not pay are those
who are just not prepared to respect the judgement of court; they
may not respect the judgements of any authority. Given the mobility
with which people move around these days, the difficulty of laying
your hands on these people is very great. There has been no national
research, no national data about the profile and the nature of
these offenders, but we have now commissioned a research project
into precisely the question you have asked, so that we do have
for the future a profile of the people who are not paying as a
basis for further developing policies.
110. Do you know anything about whether employment
or unemployment is a factor?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) I would expect that unemployment
was a factor for some of those who cannot pay.
111. Do you have any statistics on it?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) No, I just said that there has
been no national research whatever. We have now commissioned that
research, so we will have these profiles.
112. In the report, paragraph 1.6 on page 10,
it says that only one in five male defaulters was employed, so
presumably the rest are on benefit. Typically female defaulters
were in restricted financial circumstancesonly one in ten
had any sort of job and so on. Were you not aware of those statistics,
even though they were published in the report?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) They are in the report.
Mr Howarth: I know they are in the report,
I have just referred to them. When I asked you the question a
few moments ago, you did not have a clue as to whether that was
a factor other than that in a general sense you thought it might
113. You have agreed this report, have you not?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) Absolutely; on a number of occasions.
114. Have you read it?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) Yes and I marked up that particular
passage twice. I have not been into the detail of that Home Office
research but I do not think there has been a national research
project until now on the profile of these offenders.
115. It would have been easier had you referred
back to the paragraph when I asked the question. However, let
us move on. I am not sure whether you realise the origin of the
slogan "Can't pay, won't pay" but we will pass over
that for the moment. You said that in a significant number of
cases the problem is that people simple cannot pay, they have
other commitments, they may be having their gas, electricity,
rent paid directly by the benefits system and therefore they do
not have any access to money. Mr Gibb made the point that in some
senses it is a question of priorities. Do you not think if people
felt something worse was likely to happen if they did not pay
their fine, that magically they might be able to come up if not
with all, with some of the money?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) Yes, that could be possible.
The first thing to get right is to get before the magistrates
at the time they are sentencing someone to a fine all the information
about whether a person is capable of paying. That is the first
and crucial step. Then, if someone continues to default, we have
to look to see what other batteries of measures we can take. I
have already mentioned the fact that we are looking at the issue
of incentives for early payment and further sanctions for persistent
default such as registration, which would undermine someone's
credit worthiness, clamping vehicles, that sort of thing, a whole
range of measures of that sort which would add further penalties
and sanctions as well as providing incentives. I understand from
our research that these have been very successful in New Zealand
116. The legislation as currently before the
House does not allow the fixed penalty option to be applied in
the sort of circumstances you are referring to. Are you aware
(Sir Hayden Phillips) Yes.
117. You are talking about fixed penalties then
as a concept rather than as something in the current legislation
before the House.
(Sir Hayden Phillips) I mentioned it in the context
of TV licences and other things, which is a very large proportion,
27% of these, where fixed penalties might actually be a helpful
way forward for some offenders.
118. Do you think the inconsistency in sentencing
on the part of magistrates might be a factor in the reason why
people do not pay the fines in a large number of cases?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) Do you mean inconsistency in
the sense of inconsistent sentencing between similar individuals
or between different parts of the country?
119. Either between different individuals or
in an example which I can give you if it helps, with one person.
Two weeks ago with my neighbouring colleague I met the Knowsley
magistrates and we had with us some examples from Merseyside police.
One example was of a young man who had five breaches of bail order
and failed to complete a community sentence and was before the
court for shop lifting and being drunk and disorderly. He also
had a very long record of previous convictions. In those circumstances
the court in their wisdom decided to fine him £30. You are
suggesting that it ought to be the other way round. That in fact
if he failed to pay the £30 he should have had a community
sentence and so on. Do you not think that it might be the case
that a lot of people are gambling on not paying the fine? It is
a fairly safe bet in many cases that they will get away with it.
(Sir Hayden Phillips) From your case study and from
the four case studies in the NAO Report, though it is difficult
for me to comment on individual cases, it is undoubtedly the case
that word gets around that if the system is not capable of tracing
you and getting the fine, people know about that and they will
buck the system. We have to make a series of changes in the system
to make it much less easy for people to avoid their responsibilities
here and if we do that and we also give the courts a suitable
range of options for sentencing, we must do that. Through other
ways, through the judicial studies board and other things, we
can try to ensure that magistrates receive the sort of training,
guidance, information about sentencing patterns which they do
not regularly get now, about the impact of their sentences, so
your point about consistency can gradually feed through into the
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