Examination of Witness (Questions 240
MONDAY 24 JUNE 2002
240. If somebody who has been charged writes
in to say they intend to plead guilty to the charge but they do
not want to have to attend the court, they are quite happy just
to plead guilty and accept whatever punishment is imposed, they
will presumably in most cases normally be expecting a fine. Are
they then asked how they will pay the fine before the court convenes?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) That I am not clear about in
relation to guilty pleas. I will find out about that. If it is
a guilty plea and non attendance.
241. Would it not be a good idea?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) Yes.
242. If you are looking for ways of getting
more information, if somebody is going to be fined
(Sir Hayden Phillips) I think it would be a good way.
With the resources we put in, it may be economical for the courts
to do it. In a lot of these areas people have found that the amount
of bureaucracy involved in a lot of these things is quite great
and they felt they had not had the resources to deal with it.
I hope we have now changed that position.
243. I would suggest that the bureaucracy involved
in following up at least one third or two thirds of offenders
who do not pay without being followed up, must be very considerable
too. If you could reduce the bureaucracy in following up these
cases by getting information in advance so you can tell where
you should go straight for a deduction from earnings, it might
save an awful lot of time and effort.
(Sir Hayden Phillips) I agree.
244. Is it important to get some money coming
in quickly even if it is not the whole lot?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) Yes, it is very important to
do that as early as possible. If it has to be done in instalments
to try to get those as few as possible. That is very important,
otherwise people feel they can drag it all out, then your chances
of getting the money in are less as further time goes by.
245. You did say earlier that you wanted to
give priority to compensation orders.
(Sir Hayden Phillips) Everyone would want to try to
give priority to that. Under the current arrangement under the
law we are dependent on the money coming in from the person fined
to pay the compensation to the victim.
246. I understand that. If some of the money
comes in, does that go to the compensation order before it goes
to paying off the fine?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) The priority would be given
to compensation in those circumstances, because it is in a sense
what the fine is largely for.
247. If somebody is paying in instalments, the
early instalments until the compensation is fully paid will go
the victim and only after the victim is fully compensated, will
the instalments start paying for the fine.
(Sir Hayden Phillips) I think that is correct. Yes,
that is correct.
248. I notice in the London statistics that
only 47% of people are meant to pay anything and the other half
is written off. Then 67% of these are in arrears. We have a situation
in London where one in two people do not pay anything and two
thirds of the others are in arrears. What sort of message do you
think this sends to people who have been to court and who are
habitual offenders and building up these fines? Does it not send
a message that they can just keep on offending.
(Sir Hayden Phillips) It sends the message that if
you are persistent and you refuse to pay and if it is very difficult
to trace you then you are likely to get away with it and that
249. Is this not a message which is being institutionally
sent essentially by your Department? The fact is that people can
get that message and the alternative to it is basically better
enforcement or probably more sensibly identifying these people
who should not be fined in the first place. There are enormous
gaps in the system in terms of telling magistrates not to fine
this person who is an habitual offender and does not have any
money, but to impose a community order.
(Sir Hayden Phillips) Absolutely. Two comments. First
of all, getting it right at the beginning is critically important
for the whole of the rest of the system. Secondly, we are looking
at giving a range of new choices to magistrates so they do not
go on doing the same thing where it has proved ineffective in
250. When can we expect to be in a situation
where an habitual offender, in coming to court, can expect not
to be given a fine that he will not pay, but to be given a community
penalty or something else that we may be moving forward to, weekend
prison, sequestration of treasured possessions or whatever it
is? When is that going to happen in Britain?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) First of all when it is decided
to implement the Crime (Sentences) Act and this is the Home Secretary
and the Lord Chancellor discussing this. Secondly, when we next
get the opportunity for criminal justice legislation, that is
the time when we can put in a range of measures which I described
The Committee suspended from 18.35 to 18.40
for a division in the House
251. I assume that you have a situation here
where a small percentage of the people represent quite a significant
percentage of the fines due. Is that true? If you looked at the
distribution is it the case that a number of people will have
a series of fines accumulating or is it the case that these are
simply written off?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) It is a changing population,
but there will be a number of persistent defaulters and they either
have to be written off because after all the efforts have been
made they cannot find the people concerned or, eventually, after
too long a period they do eventually pay.
252. Is there any evidence that you have a situation
where a certain group of people think they do not have to pay
and ultimately they prove to be right, then those people who do
pay the fines find out about this and they later come back and
offend and do not pay?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) It is difficult to say there
is evidence of that because the rates of payment have remained
very much the same for quite a period now. It is something one
really wants to be concerned about. The more that is known and
spread abroad about the system and where it might be weak, the
more likely it is that people who might otherwise pay, will say
they heard from so and so and they will try to avoid it too.
253. In so far as victims know that there is
a chance of seasoned offenders not paying any penalty for their
injustice, is a reason for victims not coming forward sometimes
given as there being no point in coming forward because they will
just have put a fine on them and they will not pay it? Is there
any evidence of that?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) No. I think the reasons for
victims and witnesses often not coming forward are usually about
delays in courts proceedings, sometimes an unwillingness to appear
anyway. I would only have anecdotal evidence at the moment of
the number of cases there might be where somebody felt there was
no point, it was not worth it because nothing would happen.
254. Is it possible to provide a note on that?
I know there may not be evidence but I should be interested.
(Sir Hayden Phillips) I will see what information
we have about the number of cases in which victims or witnesses
failed to turn up and whether we have any information about the
reasons for that failure in the magistrates' courts.
255. It will be one of many reasons, but I am
interested to know whether it is perceived to be a growing reason.
The fact is that people go to court and often have some glaring,
arrogant, intimidating offender who knows that they are not going
to face any real punishment. Over time that undermines confidence
in the whole system and whole community.
(Sir Hayden Phillips) I agree with that and intimidation
is something which is very difficult to tackle, but it needs to
be tackled seriously, both in court and outside court.
256. What special reasons are there for Greater
London having such a low payment rate? It is 47%.
(Sir Hayden Phillips) There will probably be at least
two powerful reasons for that. First of all, the police up to
a year ago were responsible in Greater London. This was not a
priority for the police in London, given their other responsibilities.
Secondly, we would find that in large parts of London where fines
are imposed the population will be a very mobile one, who move
around, who are difficult to trace and in some areas of London
there will be a lot of people who just will not be able to pay.
257. You have said that things will get better
when we have legislation, but one of the key problems identified
in this report is that magistrates do not know the background
of offenders going forward in terms of whether they have any money,
whether they have paid at all. Magistrates do not know the impact
of their sentences and once they fine someone, they do not know
whether that fine is paid down the line. Would it be a good idea
generally to send a note to magistrates simply alerting them to
this report and the general difficulties and try to encourage
them to impose community service, graffiti clearance for instance,
instead of fining people all the time? In London in particular
there is so much graffiti, only about 47% of people are asked
to pay and two thirds of those people are in arrears. That is
not working. Would it not be better to tell magistrates that those
are the facts and you suggest they get them clearing up all the
mess people have created. Why do you not just do that?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) What we can do is to illustrate
to magistrates the range of penalties which are available to them.
What we cannot do as government is to tell magistrates what decisions
they should take. We can indicate to them that obviously there
is not much point in going on fining somebody who is not going
to pay when there are alternatives available. We have to handle
that relationship quite carefully.
258. I appreciate what you are saying, but when
there is a community service sentence, do you know to what extent
people actually do it? When they are sentenced to clean graffiti
on Saturday do they normally turn up? I know they do in Croydon
but do they normally?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) The figures I think I gave earlier
were that in terms of breaches of community penalties the failure
rate was about 30%. People on the whole do turn up, but there,
as well as in relation to fines, we have to grind up the level
259. What I am suggesting is that you might
send a note round showing the relative efficacy of different sorts
of sentences in practice so that magistrates will suddenly realise
that if they get some vandal in they are better off sending them
to clean up their own mess.
(Sir Hayden Phillips) I agree with that. The information
from the NAO report and the information we have gathered from
current research projects about the importance of the initial
decision, all that information will go before the new group we
have created on criminal enforcement which includes magistrates,
justices clerks, chief executives, staff and a whole range of
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