Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 260 - 265)

MONDAY 24 JUNE 2002

SIR HAYDEN PHILLIPS GCB

  260. My suggestion is in terms of a guidance note to magistrates. Could you do that?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) We will certainly send a guidance note, but my own experience of this whole area is that the important thing is to be able to talk to people directly. Guidance notes upon guidance notes will not be acted upon if people feel that they do not really have ownership of a particular way of solving the problem. I should like to do it through conferences and seminars as well as through paper messages, but we can certainly do that.

  261. In your view, when would you predict we would have a situation in the magistrates' courts where victims are confident that the penalties imposed on their offenders were delivered and also that offenders were confident that they could not get away with it 90% of the time? When do you think that day will come?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) It would be very hazardous to give you a date. What we want to do is progressively push up the rate at which fines are seen to be effective. As far as victims and witnesses are concerned—and this goes beyond fines—we want to try to put in place arrangements both for security and looking after them which make them feel that it is not dangerous to turn up and that they are comfortable in turning up—a whole range of victim and witness support schemes are relevant here—over time, for people to begin to see that it is more and more difficult to get away with not paying the penalty.

  262. What do you think about the practical possibilities of the suggestions that people should have their housing benefit or child benefit withdrawn if they offend?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) I think that is a pretty big area for me to stray into. We can at the moment have an opportunity for an attachment of benefits as a way of dealing with fines, but there are very strict rules about the amount you can take. It would be a bit hazardous for me to give an opinion on that difficult political issue.

  Geraint Davies: Obviously I guess you could not do it to people who are poor.

Chairman

  263. A couple of questions from colleagues. From Mr Rendel, page 19, paragraph 2.22. We are told there that research work was due to report in early 2002. Now you have told us this afternoon that it will be later this year. Can you explain why this delay is happening?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) I am told it is next month. I can give the Committee a very short note of the key points on that, if Mr Rendel would like that. It will be with you next month.[22]

  264. We have had some very interesting questions which started off with Mr Alan Williams which were based on paragraph 25 of the NAO brief to us. We are told there that in May 2002 the Lord Chancellor's Department announced that it was not proceeding with that part of the contract which would provide

the software for court business and that it intends to select an alternative supplier to provide an application to cover the next few years. We should like to know, though we appreciate you probably cannot answer this this afternoon, whether this was based on an announcement, on a press release from the Lord Chancellor's Department. Where did this information come from? May I just say that I am sure I speak for the Committee when I say that we are very concerned about this contract and we should like to have a further report from you on it. There do seem to be some question marks hanging over this particular PFI deal. Do you want to make a brief comment?

  (Sir John Bourn) Simply to say that I shall be glad to give the Committee a report on it. It is clearly a contract which has a number of strange features. The most helpful way I can respond to the Committee's interest is to let you have a report on it.

  265. Thank you very much. I am very grateful to Mr Williams and other colleagues who have highlighted that part of this report. Sir Hayden, may I thank you for coming to appear before us this afternoon. You will have gathered that we do feel strongly about this. I am looking now at the National Audit Office when I say that when the report comes to us, I am sure I speak again for members of the Committee when I say, I hope it will be a very strong report which will point to what one could almost say is a chaotic situation. My colleague, Mr Frank Field, put it quite well when he said, and it was almost no exaggeration, that paying fines has almost become voluntary. Clearly this is having a severe impact on people's freedom under the law in this country. We are not satisfied with the replies we have had this afternoon. We are very disturbed by what is written in the report and agreed between your office, Sir John, and the Lord Chancellor's Department. We look for a very hard-hitting report.
  (Sir John Bourn) Yes, Chairman.

  Chairman: Thank you, Sir John, and thank you Sir Hayden. Order, order.





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