Examination of Witnesses(Questions 1-19)|
TUESDAY 23 JULY 2002
PHILLIPS GCB, MR
CB AND MS
1. Good morning and welcome, Sir Hayden, Ms
Rowe and Mr Magee. I am sorry we seem to be rather depleted this
morning. I am told that one or two of our number are tied up in
a debate on the Criminal Records Bureau and will be joining us
shortly. Perhaps I could just start the ball rolling by asking
you about the size of your Departmentit seems to be growing.
(Sir Hayden Phillips) It is growing.
2. You have picked up electoral law, freedom
of information, data protection, human rights and some aspects
of the Lords reform. Is that a comprehensive list of the new additions?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) There are a number of additions,
both last year and this year. Perhaps I could say that in addition
to those big Machinery of Government changes, which have given
a very wide constitutional dimension to the Department along with
justice, in the core work we have been doing there has also been
a lot of activity, all at the same time, both in civil justice
reforms now, following the White Paper and, leading up to it,
in criminal justice reforms, administrative justice looked at
by Leggatt and a great deal of work on changing the legal aid
system. So a very high level of activity over the last two or
three years, plus the additional responsibilities, has in a way
changed very much the nature of the Department, the pressure it
works at and the pace it works at.
3. Do you think it has reached perfection now,
or is there scope for further expansion?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) I think perfection is something
we shall continue to strive for, and it may just always be slightly
beyond our reach.
4. Do you see it consolidating at this size
or do you see it continuing to grow?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) I think that there will be some
further growth as a result of the Government's decisions announced
in the White Paper on criminal justice. There will be a single
agency covering all the criminal courts, including the magistrates'
courts, which will mean absorbing I think about 10,000 staff from
the magistrates' courts into the departmental structure. That
will be a big and major change which Ian Magee will be leading.
In addition, if ministers decide, collectively, that they want
to make changes in administrative law in relation to tribunals,
as Sir Andrew Leggatt recommended, that would then produce another
further, big, single tribunal service, and again a very large
accretion of work and staff. So there is enormous potential still
for considerable growth.
5. Do you think your Department's work is adequately
scrutinised by Parliament?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) I very much enjoy coming on
my own to this Committee and with the Lord Chancellor. The scrutiny
has grown and our accountability has grown (when I arrived there
was one junior minister and now there are threeone in the
Lords and two in the Commons), but I am sure there is a whole
range of areas, particularly now with the new ones coming to us,
which the House authorities will want to think about how it is
best that we are examined and made to account for what we do.
6. Are you aware that this Committee has suggested
that a separate Lord Chancellor's Select Committee be set up?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) Yes, I am aware of that. There
will always be an inter-relationship between the work we do and
the work of the Home Office and the Crown Prosecution Service
throughout the criminal justice system. So there will always need
to be an arrangement by which a Committeewhichever one
it iswas able to take evidencejointly if necessary.
I have appeared with the Home Office Permanent Secretary, for
example, for the PAC and with the Director of Public Prosecutions,
and that can be a valuable way of looking at criminal justice
on the whole. I think the best thing I can say is that there obviously
are pros and cons, and I think this is a matter best left between
the House authorities and the Lord Chancellor, but we are aware
7. Just run over the cons with us, for a moment.
(Sir Hayden Phillips) The central issue, it seems
to me, is whether the links between the work we do with the other
two justice departments are so strong that it would be a mistake
to break the linkin other words, to have separate committees
looking at the same issues. I think that is the main con.
8. Our difficulty, as you know, is that the
volume of work which comes out of the Home Office is so vast that
we feel we have not been able to give adequate attention to your
department. What do you say to that?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) I understand your feeling. It
is quite difficult for the Permanent Secretary to comment on whether
or not you are able to cope with your workload. I do understand
the issue and I do see the pressure for this change.
9. Has the Lord Chancellor been consulted about
(Sir Hayden Phillips) Yes and he is thinking about
it. He has not formed a decided view, as far as I know.
10. When would you expect him to?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) I hesitate to say before the
summer recess, since from the House of Commons' point of view
that begins tomorrow. I think we should come to a view in the
early autumn about the way ahead.
11. You would accept that it is not really for
those who are to be scrutinised to decide how they should be scrutinised?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) That is why I am answering you
in an unusually diffident manner. As I say, it is very much a
matter for the House authorities.
Chairman: We will look forward to developments
on that front. Can we now turn to performance targets?
12. In your response to our written questions,
the targets that were set to be met by 2001 seem almost all to
have been replaced, remodelled, changed, dropped, or whatever
by 2002. What has the latest Comprehensive Spending Review done
to your targets, and which is the most challenging?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) There are a number of changes.
I will try not to be too long. There is a target that brings together,
for SR2002 period, confidence levels in the criminal justice system
linked with satisfaction of usersprincipally victims and
witnessesand rather than setting a percentage target for
that improvement it simply says we should make improvements on
a year-by-year basis. That is better because the level of satisfaction
of users in the system was, in the Crown Court area, for example,
about 79%, which is the highest bench-marking figure for other
public service organisations you could get. To set a 5% increase
on top of that would be very challenging. So that is one change
which has brought those together. In terms of trying to improve
the rate at which offenders are brought to justice, there is now
a specific target of trying to ensure, I think, that offences
for which offenders are brought to justice should be set at 1.2
million by 2005-06. That gives us a target for the next two years
or three years which, together with the police and the CPS, we
must try to work towards. In other words, the change there is
actually to specify a target figure where there was no target
figure before. I think the final point I would make as far as
the changes are concerned is that we have dropped the target which
says that we should secure increases of at least 5% in the number
of international legal disputes resolved in the UK. It is very
difficult to get bench-marking information but it is also very
difficult to analyse and be sure about the precise effect of government
action in achieving that target, as opposed to the marketplace.
I think it is sensible to drop the target while still pursuing
the objective. I am sorry that is a rather long answer. I do not
know, Jenny, whether you want to add any comments on SR2002.
(Ms Rowe) The only other one that I think is different
is that we now have a specific PSA target with the Home Office
on asylum and the overall number of PSA targets has been reduced
in line with Treasury attempts to hone the number down.
13. A specific target on asylum?
(Ms Rowe) Yes.
14. Asylum appeals, presumably?
(Ms Rowe) Yes.
15. Thank you. That was quite a long answer.
However, it is not quite as baffling as the targets themselves.
If people outside the Department find the targets baffling and
incomprehensible, how confident are you that people within your
Department understand them?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) First, on the baffle point,
I think what we should try to do in future, in terms of public
explanation in our report, is not to have a great run of changing
targets year-on-year and give the whole history, which I think
is confusing. When I looked at the questions we were asked to
provide supplementary evidence on it was clear that the story
was unnecessarily complicated. What we should be doing is concentrating
on the six or seven key targets for the last year rather than
going through all the bases on which they were changed. As far
as internal understanding is concerned, I think that is high.
We have ensured that for each target there is a senior member
of staff who is in charge of understanding all its ramifications
and who is supported by a group of people who are involved in
delivering that target. Internally there is, I think, a fair degree
of understanding. I think the issue is to be able to explain what
we are doing in a clearer way publicly, year-on-year. I think
this is a rather confusing picture that we have presented in the
16. So we will see a more streamlined report
(Sir Hayden Phillips) Yes, absolutely.
17. Just sticking with the business of targets
for a moment, the Home Office said in their evidence on targets
that specified targets and relevant performance parameters can
sometimes be complicated by the need to avoid perverse outcomes
and unexpected impacts on other targets. There is then a very
long and confusing sentence that, I think, the Plain English Campaign
might want to have a look at. "Perverse outcomes and unexpected
impacts on other targets". Can you give us any examples of
perverse outcomes or unexpected impacts? When those targets are
being drawn up, how do you assess the effect of achieving one
target on other priorities?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) I think, as a generalisation,
it is certainly true that you have to watch very carefully that
in driving down to pursue one particular area of success you do
not, in fact, as it were, create problems in another area. It
is partly an issue of resourcing and partly an issue of concentrating
people's minds. An example of where you could find there was a
potential conflict is in the balance between a target for delay
through the courts, on the one hand, and achieving substantive
results on the other. In other words, if you drove too fast for
delay and you moved too quickly you might not do the work sufficiently
well to secure the actual results you might want. That is the
sort of conflict that has to be managed within the court system
all the time. I, personally, think that it is very important we
do have targets for delay because if we do not keep our foot on
that accelerator the risk is that cases will drag outwitnesses
will get frustrated and irritated and may drop away from the caseand
it is more likely that you will get adjournments and then an unsuccessful
result. That is an example of where you have to try and keep a
balance. I do not know whether my colleagues have any other examples
in mind where we might, within our own area, have created conflicts
that are difficult to manage.
(Mr Magee) I do not think we have created a conflict.
First of all, the balance which Sir Hayden referred to, between
quality and quantity is a really important one and I do not think
there are perfect answers to that because speed is important in
the delivery of justice. There is an area that we need to watch,
and it is best to be frank with you about this. We have set, in
the Court Service, for the first time this year, a target for
the progression of family work and, particularly, for children
and care work, for example. We will not have the first set of
results from that until later on this year, but our dipstick approach
in the first few months of this year seems to say that there are
undue delays in family. We have got one resource, which is civil
and family sitting days, with which to tackle justice on the civil
side, including family. You would want to know what we were doing
about that. I think the setting of a target of itself, in my view,
is helpful there because it helps to illuminate the position.
What we seek to do is to engage with the President of the Family
Division about some of the results that came out of a survey that
was published just in March of this year to see whether we cannot
get better case management in family cases, for one thing, and,
from my perspective in managing the court system, I will need
to see whether we need to achieve a better balance between sitting
days in family cases and sitting days in civil cases, possiblycoming
back to the question about perversity or otherwiseto the
detriment of the good results that we are achieving on the civil
side at the moment.
18. Are you concerned about any conflicts, perhaps,
between targets that are set for the Home Office and targets that
are set for your Department? Do they ever clash?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) We try to make sure they do
not. This is work that over the last few years has been done very
closely together, both in relation to criminal justice and in
relation to asylum. Perhaps I can take the asylum example. It
is very important that we do not allow a system to arise in which
the Home Office are clearing cases out of their path so quickly
that we build up a vast backlog and bottleneck in the appeals
process. So we need, with them jointly, to manage the flow of
cases through the system in a sensible way. So their targets,
as it were, and our targets have to be agreed between us, and
we have people from the Home Office working with us and we have
people sitting on their Board to make sure that that connection
is made throughout. I think the answer to the question is that
we have done everything we can so far to make sure there is not
an inherent conflict between the targets set for the Home Office
and for ourselves in areas where we have a joint responsibility.
I do not know, Jenny, whether you want to add to that.
(Ms Rowe) I was only going to say that, in fact, the
asylum target is a joint target between us and the Home Office,
and some of the criminal justice system targets are as well. So
they are in our Public Service Agreement and are identical in
the Home Office Public Service Agreement as a way of overcoming
any potential problem.
19. So in relation to the situation, for example,
in asylum, when the Home Office did have a target of 30,000 removals,
you would have been confident that you could have dealt with the
appropriate number of appeals consistent with that?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) Yes. The question is the rate
at which you can dispose of them and the rate at which they flow
through the system. As you know, this is an area which has increased
enormously in size. In terms of our own responsibility, there
has been a 75% increase in the number of appeals successfully
passing through the system, comparing the last year with the year
before. The figures really are very dramatic indeed. The size
of the jurisdiction in immigration and asylum has increased by
50%judges, part-time and full-time, administrative staff,
back upand something like a 300% increase in administrative
workload has been dealt with by only a 30% increase in staff.
I mention those figures because I think it is important that the
Committee and the Department understand how enormous a change
this has been and how, despite that pressure of work, we have
managed to keep quite a good flow through the system and to cope
with increasing Home Office efficiency in deciding their cases.
I think the problem in our part of the system is that whereas
the Home Office are dealing with an administrative process within
house, by the time it gets to usif I can put it that waywe
are then bringing together people from the Home Office, people
from the defence, interpreters, judges and so on. So we move into
the normal, as it were, court environment where the number of
players is greater and where, of course, they are not all of them
under our control in the same way as the Home Office can be in
control of their own cases. That is why we have this target of
two months for the Home Office to deal with their part, four months
for us and an overall average through the process of doing 65%
within that four-month period.