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Justice Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 97-ii
Taken before the Justice Committee
on Tuesday 6 March 2012
Sir Alan Beith (Chair)
Mr Robert Buckland
Mr Elfyn Llwyd
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Frances Done CBE, Chair, and John Drew, Chief Executive, Youth Justice Board, gave evidence.
Chair: Frances Done and John Drew from the Youth Justice Board, we were not sure the last time we saw you whether we would be seeing you again. Quite clearly we are, so perhaps we should congratulate you on survival. Before we turn to questioning, it would be helpful if any interests that need to be declared for either part of this morning’s session could be declared.
Mr Buckland: I should declare that I am a Crown Court Recorder and therefore up to 15 days a year I work in the Courts Service.
Q282 Yasmin Qureshi: Good morning. As the Chair has said, when we last met there was the question of whether the Youth Justice Board would survive. During the course of our hearings we heard evidence from Mr Blunt, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. He explained that one of the reasons why they were thinking of bringing the Youth Justice Board activity into the Ministry was that, when they were dealing with the riots in the summer, for example, they were not aware of what was being done with the under-18s. I know that is not something that the Youth Justice Board would accept as correct. We know that you made representations, or the organisation did, and you gave as much information as you could and worked very well with the Ministry. Having moved forward, the Government decided that the YJB would survive. When this process of proposed abolition was going on and being discussed, what impact did it have, if any, on your ability to work effectively in the course of your duties?
Frances Done: The whole process of going through and preparing for transition and the abolition of the YJB was quite distracting. Bear in mind that we had a period of uncertainty from the date of the election until October, and then the decision was taken. There was then a year until the Government changed their mind. So we had quite a long period of uncertainty. The members of the board, working with our Chief Executive and our executive team, made a very clear decision that we were going to make sure that, whatever happened, while we would also co-operate with planning for transition, we would move full steam ahead on all the work that we would normally do. The reason for that was because everyone felt so strongly that there had been such progress made and nobody was prepared to put it at risk. Everyone wanted to make sure that whatever was handed over was handed over at full throttle. That is what happened. We made quite sure that all the planning was twin-track. We planned for transition but at the same time bore in mind that maybe we would not end up with a transition.
The biggest challenge for us was that stakeholders-the people we work with such as magistrates, youth offending teams, ACPO and all the reform groups, who are the people who are really important to making progress-were very worried about what was going to happen and felt uncertainty. The whole youth justice system felt uncertainty. We had to be very strong in reassuring everyone that we were doing our utmost to make sure that, whatever happened in the future, the focus would remain on getting on with the front-line work-the sort of co-operation and partnership that delivers results. It was very distracting. Inevitably, everyone had to work incredibly hard just to keep the show on the road as well as planning for transition, but that was the right thing because, in the end, it paid off.
Q283 Yasmin Qureshi: Has the Youth Justice Board made any structural decision to allow the Minister to have more direct responsibilities or involvement in what you are doing?
Frances Done: The Youth Justice Minister?
Yasmin Qureshi: Yes.
Frances Done: The good thing that has come out of all this is that we now have much more regular access to the Youth Justice Minister. John and I meet Crispin Blunt on a very regular basis. That is entirely helpful. That is a position we would always want to be in. The closeness of the relationship enables us to be very sure that we are working strategically in the direction that the Minister is happy with. He is much more involved in that kind of process. In fact that is happening now and we can say more about that, if you like.
That is entirely right because our statutory duty is to advise the Minister about youth justice matters, but in the end the policy is a matter for the Minister. We have to work well with the civil servants in the MoJ and the Minister to make sure that our expertise is embedded in that policy development. We absolutely understand that we are there to work in the strategic direction that the Government want. We have never had any problem about that. The close relationship is ideal from our point of view.
Q284 Yasmin Qureshi: In light of the fact that there is now a closer relationship and you are meeting the Ministers much more regularly, would you consider that Ministers have become more involved in your business planning? If so, has any of this had any impact on your programme of activities at all?
Frances Done: I will ask John to answer that because he is very involved in those discussions.
John Drew: Our business planning cycle begins in the autumn of the preceding year. We develop proposals for our board on the overarching objectives for the coming year. That is based on an analysis of market position, intelligence and what is happening in the youth justice world. After the board had produced its own view on what our overarching objectives should be, we then took them to the Minister. There is ministerial sign-off, which happens in the autumn. That happened and the Minister was very engaged in the discussion about that. There are choices.
We then take that material away and, through to a period of about two weeks ago, develop from the overarching objectives a series of deliverables. There are perhaps 30 or 35 in all. They would be quite specific programmes that we are going to work on in the current year that contribute to the overarching objectives of the YJB. Again, our board is very engaged in that process, but ultimately each of those deliverables goes to the Minister for sign-off. With that, Crispin Blunt has asked for a clear articulation of how much resource we would imagine attaching to each of the deliverables. We are due to discuss that with him on 13 March, which is next week. The Minister is very engaged in that process of looking at what we intend to do and helping shape that direction, and ultimately saying yea or nay. That is the situation that we have always believed was a cornerstone of our operations in an NDPB. There is no change in principle there, but it would be the case that Crispin Blunt is particularly engaged in that and particularly keen to exercise his own stamp upon what we will be doing in his name in the coming year.
Q285 Steve Brine: I would like to talk about the Minister being more involved in business planning and your now meeting more regularly. It begs the question, to my suspicious mind, why were you not before? Was that the personality of the different Minister, which obviously changed? Was it that you were requesting such meetings and they were being rebuffed? Was the Minister requesting such meetings and you were rebuffing them? Why did it take the threat of your abolition to suddenly get this act together?
Frances Done: It is obviously not for me to comment on what Ministers do.
Q286 Steve Brine: Do not comment on what Ministers do; tell me the facts.
Frances Done: The facts are that, since the election, we did meet the Minister periodically but there was the whole issue about potential abolition. The quango policy was a separate stream of activity. It was not really about youth justice per se; it was about arm’s length bodies. Once the abolition had been proposed by Government, then we did meet with the Minister but not on a regular or very close basis because, in a sense, the focus was all on the transition itself. That was obviously a choice.
I can absolutely guarantee that, if we are ever asked to meet a Minister, we would never rebuff that. As far as we are concerned, we can only do our job well if we have regular access to Ministers. An arm’s length body ministerial relationship works best when there is a very close and trusting relationship between the Chair, the chief executive of the body, the Minister, and the senior civil servants who are involved. If you get that relationship-which I think we have now-then you will get better results.
Q287 Chair: You mean it works better when it is not arm’s length.
Frances Done: No. It depends on the function. In our case the body is arm’s length, but there is a very close relationship between the Minister and the senior people in the arm’s length body and the senior civil servants. When you get that, you get the level of expertise, understanding, knowledge and commitment that drives changes in policy that will work. We completely welcome that.
Q288 Steve Brine: With respect, I am not sure that directly answered my question. The meetings became more frequent since the threat of abolition and since your saving, but I am interested in before that period. What led to the breakdown in communication that would have led to the Minister saying what he actually said in the House? How often did you meet before this process started and how often do you meet subsequently?
John Drew: Each Government is different. Before the last general election we were jointly sponsored and the cadence of meetings was different from what it has been since. All through this period of potential abolition I have been meeting Crispin Blunt on roughly a monthly basis. The meetings had a slightly different flavour to them because we were meeting under the assumption that we were heading towards abolition. I was meeting him in many ways more as, for example, Michael Spurr might meet him as head of the Prison Service-the head of NOMS.
At the risk of reducing something to personalities and personal interests, it has always been the case that Crispin Blunt has been very interested in youth justice and has had a great appetite for learning about it. I read the things that he said in Parliament and, indeed, have discussed with him his feeling that he was not as involved as he would have liked to have been with certain specific issues. I heard his evidence to you on that point. That disappointed me in the sense that it has never been a part of the YJB’s brief to keep Ministers away from any of the big issues we grapple with, simply because our authority, such as it is, comes from the proximity of our relationship with them.
Q289 Steve Brine: It disappointed you, but was it accurate?
John Drew: It is a bit like bullying. If someone says they are being bullied, they are being bullied. If a Minister feels that he is not informed, then, however hard we may have tried to keep him informed, I accept that he is right, he is not informed and we have committed ourselves to doing better on that.
Q290 Jeremy Corbyn: In January 2011 the Public Accounts Committee expressed concern about the management, governance and observation of arm’s length organisations within the Ministry. What is your experience about the efficiency of monitoring and managing what they do from within the Ministry of Justice?
John Drew: Our relationship with the Ministry of Justice is slightly unusual in the sense that, while we do have a relationship with the governance unit, we also have our own sponsorship unit-the youth justice policy unit. I think it is unique in that regard. We are one of relatively few-
Q291 Jeremy Corbyn: Is that not a duplication?
John Drew: No. The MoJ has been pretty clear about what the governance unit will do and what the policy unit will do. You have to remember in all of this that to do the business of the Government we have to work very closely with the policy unit because they are responsible for youth justice policy, which in turn is informed by what is happening in the field in the world of youth justice. Indeed, our statutory function is to monitor the operation of the youth justice system and to advise Ministers on that. That function is very close.
I could describe in detail, if you wanted, the division of labour between the governance unit and the policy unit, but on a practical level it does not feel like a duplication. The governance unit is much more concerned with issues, such as, for example, the development of shared services and the negotiation of a framework agreement. The policy unit is much more concerned with taking policy initiatives, operationalising them and then seeing them delivered in the youth justice world. We work very closely with both the policy unit and more recently the governance unit.
In some senses the process we went through on potential abolition brought us closer together. They were the group of people who, with us, were planning for the eventuality of abolition. That is a pretty healthy relationship. It is certainly a challenge. There was certainly sign-off of our major plans, our budgets and so on.
Q292 Jeremy Corbyn: Do you think there is a problem of a lack of innovation in arm’s length bodies? At the same time, do you think they tend to go off in their own way and essentially try and ignore what the Ministry of Justice wants?
John Drew: There are two questions there.
Q293 Jeremy Corbyn: Yes, there are and they are different questions. They are opposites as well.
John Drew: In relation to innovation I would certainly put the record of my board up against any organisation in public service in terms of our record of innovation, which I think is very good. I do not think we are in any sense an organisation that settles for the status quo. That is a major reason why we have been able to achieve what we have achieved in terms of the performance improvements in the youth justice system. I also think that is a major reason why so many voices spoke up against abolition because they could see our record in relation to that.
On the issue of going off on your own, the Youth Justice Board operates in two worlds that matter intensely to Government. It operates in the children’s world and in the criminal justice world. There is never a quiet day. You are never going to be able to plough your own furrow when you operate in that area. It is an area of intense controversy and intense interest. There are probably more opinions on the street on those issues than there are on many others. I have never felt that we were operating in a vacuum or an area where people were not interested.
Q294 Jeremy Corbyn: What is the advantage of an arm’s length body that Government cannot do themselves, in your view?
Frances Done: Responding in relation to youth justice, because obviously there are different reasons for different areas of policy, the case for an arm’s length body in youth justice is overwhelming because of the complexity of the youth justice system, as John said. It encompasses children, welfare, enforcement and public protection. There are so many bodies. We have a chart, which is rather interesting, showing all the bodies that have a role in youth justice and it is extremely complicated. There are of course a large number of Government Departments as well, the main sponsor Department being the Ministry of Justice.
If those parts of the system do not work together-if they do not share the same objective and work in a way that is completely aligned-then you can never improve what is going to happen. That was essentially what the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 was all about. It has been demonstrated over the last 12 years that an arm’s length body is able to operate with all those bits of the system in a way that is much more flexible, much more front-line focused and much more based on experience of what works and what can work than can a Government Department. The strength of the argument is all around that.
I was asked a question about whether it was a distraction to be going through the abolition discussions, but there were some positives. First of all, without any doubt, within a matter of months all the main players in youth justice-the magistrates, judges, ACPO and the local authorities-had a real understanding and there was a worry about the risk of making this change because of the way that YJB has been able to operate across that system very flexibly. We are quite open in our discussions because that is the way of getting partnerships to work. It is not any civil servant’s fault, but there was a real concern that by the nature of the civil service that could not be replicated. It is that freedom of action, the focus and the front-line experience that is the key.
Following on from the previous questions, I do not think it is at all surprising that the chair and the chief executive of an arm’s length body think that a very close relationship with the Minister is a good thing. We do not in any sense feel that that is oppressive. We know that we can discuss the issues that we are concerned about-the developments, the progress, the challenges and the problems-knowing all about the system and what we feel will work. It is far better to have direct access to the Minister to talk about those things so that he or she can make the judgment as to whether we are talking sense or not. The worst thing for an arm’s length body is to have a disconnect between the ministerial role and what we are doing. Ploughing our own furrow is pointless. We have to have the ability to influence those who make the key decisions, decide the budgets and so on.
I am feeling very optimistic at the moment. It is getting that balance right because we are arm’s length. We are not part of the Department. We give our views very clearly to the Minister, but it is by making all that work together that you get the best results. The results in the last 12 years show that this can work. This is a personal opinion and not a board opinion. I feel regret that, so far, Ministers and the MoJ have not recognised that this sort of model could be beneficial in other areas. For example, in women’s justice I feel very strongly about that. You have bigger numbers and you have the potential to make those sorts of changes in another area of justice. I would like to think that lessons were learned about that. Obviously that is a matter for the Minister.
Q295 Jeremy Corbyn: Do you think, in your own case, that there has been an efficient and effective way of communicating to colleagues within the civil service and Parliament, but also the wider public, the work that is done and why it is done? I ask the question because I get the feeling that a lot of the public have enormous instant opinions on all aspects of justice, particularly where young people and children are concerned, but are often completely unaware of the wider policy parameters that are in operation.
Frances Done: Yes; that is absolutely true. There has been quite a lot of consideration about the whole issue of public confidence in the justice system and what contribution various bits of the system have to make to it. It is an area where we have worked quite hard with youth offending teams to consider with their partners what contribution they can make about local information, local awareness and what they do when they work with young people, what happens when children are sentenced and what those sentences are. I would not say that that, overall, has been a huge success. In relation to the level of public confidence in what happens about youth crime, as we know, people tend to feel reasonably confident about their own area but they do not feel confident nationally. They do not think things are under control. The confidence survey showed this dichotomy between the local and the national. There is quite a way to go on that. It is a huge area.
John Drew: I would only say one other thing. This has always been something that we have been focused on and there is always more that we can do in respect of it. One of the things that we do know from polling the public is that the area of the youth justice system that the public are least confident about and know least about is the operation of courts in relation to children before the courts. Of course, that is properly shrouded in secrecy in most cases to protect identity. That certainly creates a problem. I am not saying that we should reverse that-I believe very strongly that children’s anonymity in most instances should be protected-but it is one of the very particular challenges that we have.
We also operate in a climate in which high-profile stories are almost always stories where something has gone wrong. We focused a lot of our energy on working with local papers to produce stories of progress for them about individual atonement and the like. Local media has much less of an influence these days than it did even five years ago. You will see in our business plan for next year, as you would have seen for this year, further resources devoted to trying to improve public awareness of what is happening, good and bad.
Q296 Ben Gummer: As a quick supplementary to Mr Corbyn’s questions, how do you feel that you are democratically accountable?
Frances Done: It is entirely due to the fact that I am appointed to my post by the Minister and I am accountable to the Minister. All the board members are appointed by the Secretary of State. In terms of our corporate plan, our accounts are presented to Parliament. We are subject to review by NAO and there are all the normal arrangements to do with public accountability. Speaking personally, I feel that my influence in authority comes entirely through that. We feel that we are completely publicly accountable. Everything we do is transparent in the same way that public sector organisations always should be.
Q297 Ben Gummer: I want to put a proposition to you. I have constituents who are very concerned about a local youth offending institution, where inmates are allowed to throw their televisions out of the window and have them replaced within 24 hours because of an injunction from the Youth Justice Board. They are concerned about that. Who do I write to in order to express their dissent?
Frances Done: Certainly start with myself or John; absolutely.
Q298 Ben Gummer: What would happen if you decided that that was not something that you wanted to reverse?
Frances Done: You are asking me to comment on an actual case to which I have not given any consideration.
Q299 Ben Gummer: Let me suppose I had tapped up the Minister and you then had a discussion with the Minister in one of these very regular meetings you are having. What weight would you put on his protest?
Frances Done: If you were to contact me about your constituents’ concern about that, first of all I would establish the facts and find out exactly what was happening.
Q300 Ben Gummer: Assuming you decided it was not worthy of changing your mind and I therefore talked to the Minister, and the Minister then talked to you in one of these regular meetings you are having, what weight would you put on his protest?
Frances Done: I would be extremely concerned if it was not possible for us to come to the same conclusion about something. In the end, matters to do with custody and the way in which young people are dealt with in custody and so on are absolutely matters for discussion between the Minister and us. We would not take the view that it is something on which we could just say, "Well, fine; we are going to do that."
Q301 Ben Gummer: If he suggested that you change the policy, would you do so therefore?
Frances Done: Essentially I would say yes.
Q302 Ben Gummer: So what is the purpose of the Youth Justice Board?
Frances Done: You are talking about one very specific function of the Youth Justice Board.
Q303 Ben Gummer: I am trying to explain the line of democratic accountability.
Frances Done: I am making the point that, in the end, the Minister is the one with the commissioning powers for the secure estate. That commissioning power is exercised through the Youth Justice Board. In the particular case you are talking about, it is our responsibility to be satisfied that the Minister is entirely happy. We very rarely talk about something of that degree of detail, but we do on occasion because there is a great deal of public concern about various aspects of custodial regimes. I do not find that inconsistent at all with the Youth Justice Board having a very important role. We also have a role across the whole of the community side of youth justice. We are not totally focused on the custodial estate. The important thing to bear in mind there would be that, when we were talking to the Minister, we would be talking to him about the particular issue, whatever it was, with the basis of the experience, knowledge and understanding of how the system works, how it is intended to work, what the reasons have been for the various decisions and whether they stand up and are valid.
Q304 Ben Gummer: Of course that does not happen in any other division within the Ministry of Justice, does it? When the Minister interacts with officials, that kind of conversation does not happen.
Frances Done: It does.
Q305 Ben Gummer: What is the value of the £250,000 that pays for the board that you have just described, which is not described otherwise within the Ministry of Justice?
Frances Done: I would argue that there is a big difference in terms of commissioning. One of the reasons that our commissioning of the secure estate has been more successful and makes more sense, and our ability, for example, to reduce the numbers of young people in custody very significantly compared to the adult estate, which has continued to grow year on year, has been that we have the ability to stand back from the provider of the secure estate. In our case the providers are the prison service, two private companies and also 10 local authorities. We have a very complex provision of secure estate. We stand back. We are not directly responsible for delivering any of those services. We are also not directly responsible for delivering the youth offending teams’ services. They are delivered by 158 local authority agreements. By being able to work across that whole complex system we have been able to deliver, with all the people working in those systems, some quite impressive results. That is not to say there is any complacency, but it is interesting to see that the most recent reoffending rate from custody has gone down to 68%. Obviously, that is far too high.
Q306 Ben Gummer: But it is also interesting to note that youth crime has fallen across Europe, has it not?
Frances Done: Yes; I am not denying that.
Q307 Ben Gummer: How does the fall in the United Kingdom compare with our European comparators?
Frances Done: I could not give you that answer just off the top of my head.
Q308 Ben Gummer: Why not?
Frances Done: Because it is quite a complex issue.
Q309 Ben Gummer: But surely the first thing that the Youth Justice Board should do, if it is going to do anything, is benchmark against European competitors.
Frances Done: We have benchmarks. We do understand the information. The MoJ analysis team, working with our team, have international comparisons.
Q310 Ben Gummer: I would like to know what value added the Youth Justice Board brought above the European fall in youth crime.
Frances Done: I would like to say that there has been a demonstrable improvement in the situation in the UK, in England and Wales.
Q311 Ben Gummer: How does that differ from elsewhere in Europe, across a trend that goes across the western world in fact in most jurisdictions?
Frances Done: With respect, I think you are asking quite a sweeping question, which it would be very difficult to answer without comparable definitions of youth crime and so on. Certainly, if the Committee wants to look at that, we would be more than happy to co-operate on that.
Q312 Ben Gummer: All I am saying is that you have three times pointed to the success of the Youth Justice Board. You have done so every time that I have sat in this Committee and you have come before it. It was an argument made in the House of Lords. Yet the fact is that youth crime has fallen across Europe. What I would like to know is what value the Youth Justice Board has brought to that fall or whether you are just claiming credit for a fall that is determined by a trend.
John Drew: Perhaps I might try and introduce some figures here. The generally accepted view about the fall in levels of youth crime across western Europe and indeed across the UK is an absolute fall of about 5% across a period of 10 years. It is very hard to come to an absolutely certain figure in relation to that, but that is generally accepted to be the figure.
We would say that we have added value in that, even within that, we have managed to reduce figures for children entering the system, for both absolute reoffending and also for the frequency of reoffending or volume of reoffending. We have also reduced the numbers of children in custody at a proportion that is much greater than that. The numbers of children entering the youth justice system has reduced by 50%. The frequency of reoffending over the last 10 years-the volume-has reduced by 30%. We would say that is a consequence of work that the Youth Justice Board and many others have done in bringing together a system that, in 1997, was very fragmented and where there were very varied levels of local commitment to working at all on the issue of youth justice, bringing it together, giving it life and ensuring that, after the first initial honeymoon period when everyone is very excited about a new creation, that continues on thereafter.
Q313 Ben Gummer: With all that success, would you therefore argue that the budget for the Youth Justice Board should be cut as you have to deal with less crime?
John Drew: Our budget has been cut significantly.
Q314 Ben Gummer: Is it being cut by the appropriate amount?
John Drew: The appropriate amount would always be one for others to comment on. I can say that we have sought to reduce our overheads and our core costs-the costs of just running the board as such-at a rate that is greater than any other level of reduction in terms of cuts for services for youth justice. In fact we have gone from being an organisation of 393 people on 1 April 2010 to a situation today where we have 224 employees.
Q315 Mr Buckland: I want to develop the point on analysis that has already been touched upon. It is clear from our recent visit to the MoJ that a lot of work has been done to improve the evidence base. The analysts are developing new systems by which we can bring together the information in a more understandable way. It is right to say, is it not, that recent reports, and particularly an NAO report in 2010, questioned whether or not the MoJ or indeed the arm’s length bodies had the correct information upon which to base decisions? What do you feel, as an arm’s length body, as to whether or not you have had sufficient evidence in recent years to judge basically what works and what does not work in terms of sentencing and reoffending when it comes to young offenders?
John Drew: There is both the work that we have led ourselves and there is the degree to which we have been able to tap into the resources of the MoJ and indeed the resources of other Departments. Perhaps I could start there and rehearse that very briefly. We work very closely with the Analytical Services division of the MoJ. We have some of their staff out-based within the YJB and vice versa. It is hard to be sure whether someone is working for the MoJ or the YJB. That is a situation we encourage. We have a joint research committee and the like, so we are very closely tied in together and very closely tied in to the DfE, who do a lot of work in related fields, particularly on what works in terms of early intervention, prevention and the like. As the quality of the performance from MoJ Analytical Services and others has improved, so that has come directly into our organisation.
So far as the YJB then is concerned, we have some very particular responsibilities in relation to effective practice. It says "good practice" in the statute, but it means the same thing. We have taken the international evidence, which is relatively limited but strong in relation to certain programmes. Intensive fostering would be one; multi-systemic therapy would be another. We have made sure that there are innovations in England and Wales that follow those programmes. In particular, we have emphasised to the organisations who are delivering that, often with direct funding from us, that they must maintain integrity of programme; in other words, they must replicate here the evidence from, principally, north America. I think we can say that, of all the internationally gold-standard type programmes that are about in terms of validation, we have ensured that they are being innovated.
Most recently, for example, in relation to multi-systemic therapy, our programme to innovate with four consortia or similar local authorities to try and drive down the numbers of children in custody has seen two of them adopt multi-systemic approaches with our encouragement. We have done that.
I do not think our track record is perfect in relation to effective practice. I have said that in this Committee before. What we are doing for this year is refreshing our offer in a number of different ways. The first thing we have done is to go to the sector and say, "What are the next things that you would like to know more about in order to be effective?" They have identified a whole series of things. Not surprisingly, it starts with stuff like, "How do we properly evaluate in a scientific way some of the programmes we are running that we have devised locally?", and goes on to emerging issues of work with girls and the like, where there is a feeling in the sector that they do not know enough about how they can really turn girls’ lives away from crime and the like. From that, we have a list of priorities that we have built into our key deliverables for next year. We have allocated more resources than previously, and certainly more resources proportionately than we have previously put into the dissemination of effective practice.
Q316 Mr Buckland: Has this been done in the wake of the National Audit Office report? You will recall that, in 2010, youth offending team leaders were asked whether or not they knew what impact their measures were having on reoffending and 76% said they did not have enough information.
John Drew: Absolutely. As the chief executive of the Youth Justice Board, that could never satisfy me, although I would make the point that good managers in youth justice will always say they could know more. You could interpret that as meaning that. The National Audit Office and the subsequent Public Accounts Committee hearing were wake-up calls to us that we needed to raise our game. That is what we have been trying to do over the last 18 months.
Q317 Mr Buckland: I touched quite clearly upon the reforms within the MoJ in terms of their analytical function. Do you see that already having an impact on the formulation of policy?
John Drew: It is less easy for us to see that. Their focus is across the whole of the criminal justice system rather than only on youth justice, but I can certainly see it so far as it impacts on youth justice. We entered into a joint programme with MoJ Analytical Services in 2007, which is called the Juvenile Cohort Study. That studied 14,000 young people entering the criminal justice system in 2007 across a 12-month period. It is beginning to produce data for us.
The first report from that study-which we have now published and was something that MoJ Analytical Services led on-is an evaluation of the predictability of our assessment tool. A good assessment tool ought to be one that helps us to identify children who are most likely to be at risk of offending or children who have started offending and who are most likely to go on and cause the highest level of nuisance, damage and the like. We have fed that report into work that we are doing to introduce a new assessment system. That would be a direct concrete example of a piece of work led by MoJ Analytical Services feeding into the youth justice programme.
Q318 Mr Buckland: Do you think you have enough data or enough of a base to model the future demand-the future pattern of likely offenders and offending?
John Drew: We have a very robust system for modelling demand so far as custody is concerned. It is an easier thing to model than total levels of crime within society because there are a lot of social constructs around total levels of crime within society. Laws can change, things that were offences can cease to be offences and vice versa. Equally, there is the operation of policing by police forces and others. The expectations within sentencing guidelines and so on can change. I do not think we have as good a model as perhaps we could have in relation to forecasting trends with impunity, but we have a very strong model in relation to custody. Since that is where cost is most critically placed, that is why we have concentrated in that area.
Q319 Mr Buckland: Coming back to pathways into offending in the first place, do you think now that the models you are using are more robust at identifying pathways into offending, which then can be used by local youth offending teams and other voluntary providers, who do a lot of work in the area of mentoring and assisting young people who have been identified as on a pathway into potential offending?
John Drew: One of the very first things that the Youth Justice Board did when it came into existence was to identify what we call the risk factors. It is just what you are describing. It is that conglomeration of factors that makes it more or less likely for a young person to become an offender later on. We have refined that, and the Juvenile Cohort Study I talked about has further refined that for us.
Not all of the research in this area is done by Government. There is a major study that has been carried out by Edinburgh university. Although it is in Scotland and is therefore in a different jurisdiction, it nevertheless has huge lessons for us. One of the roles of the YJB is to make sure that it keeps its eye on other jurisdictions and other countries and takes those lessons on board.
The short answer to your question is, yes, we are pretty clear about pathways. There remains a huge problem of predictability. If you look at the risk factors and identify children who fall within that cohort or are clearly at risk of offending, it would still be the case that perhaps two do not go on to offend for every one who does. That is a problem in criminology and sociology. It is not unique to the particular area of youth justice in England and Wales.
Q320 Elizabeth Truss: When we visited the Ministry of Justice, we noticed that there was a lot of focus on policy and there were a lot of policy teams. Quite often those teams appeared to have overlapping roles. You would have a youth justice policy team separate from the adult justice policy team. Can you see scope for making efficiencies and conducting more studies across the whole cohort rather than having siloed areas that may be doing some of the same work? Further to that, where would you identify savings in the overall Ministry of Justice structure?
John Drew: First, on the issue of policy, it has certainly been of great concern to me to make sure that there is not a duplication between the Youth Justice Board and the Ministry of Justice because that is within our control.
Q321 Elizabeth Truss: I am talking about the teams within the Ministry of Justice.
John Drew: I realise that and I apologise for saying that, but you probably need to hear me say that. Sometimes one of the mistakes that NDPBs make is that they themselves mirror the activity within a host department. You heard evidence suggesting that that might have been the case in relation to the LSC earlier in this series. That is the first thing that we have been focused on.
I believe that youth justice is a distinctive area because of the reasons that I have described previously. You need to be thinking about both criminal justice matters and matters of children’s well-being. For example, the sentence of the courts is driven, among other things, by section 44 of the 1933 Children and Young Persons Act, which says that in reaching any sentence the court must attend to the well-being of the child. It is quite a specialist area. I would be loth to say that it should just be merged into a general responsibility for criminal justice policy, not least because we know that the big beast at the party is adults. That is where most of the money is and most of the offenders. My fear would be that we would lose a distinctive focus, which is about children, were we not to have that.
Q322 Chair: Would you not say that you have been able to achieve more in radical approaches to custody because you are operating within that defined area than the rest of the Ministry of Justice has been able to do?
Frances Done: With regard to achievements on custody in terms of the secure estate commissioning, we would say we were in a stronger position to be able to drive improvement in that because we are at arm’s length from the provider in each case-three different providers. That is a really important part of the system. In the wider system, the fact that we are not directly responsible for provision is helpful.
If I could follow up that question in a slightly different direction and going well outside my remit here, I absolutely agree with John that youth justice has to have a very specific focus. It was when it did not have that very strong focus that we were not delivering the results and improvements that are needed. That could also be applied to other groups-for example, women-because, if the solutions are different, if the activities and directions of policy are different for different groups, it is definitely worthwhile to have a policy focus on those groups. If you could accumulate 18 to 25s within adult men and children all together and get just as good results, fine, but I absolutely do not think you can do that. There are different solutions-
Q323 Elizabeth Truss: What I am suggesting is a question about organisational structure here. Do we need all those directors and all those managers? Are we failing to learn the lessons from some parts of the justice system by having different silos that are operating, particularly when there are a lot of crossovers with the Department for Education or the Heath Department as well? I observed some of those financial drivers during our visit to the Department. You make a very good point about the commissioning and provider split, but I would say that is an argument for contracting out more prisons; so you could see it in an entirely different way. I am more broadly interested in where you see the savings coming from in the Ministry of Justice. If the Youth Justice Board is working so well, what are the lessons for the rest of the Ministry of Justice about where savings could be made?
Frances Done: I would hesitate to express an opinion about the whole of the Ministry of Justice. I do feel, though, in an area where we do have the experience to comment, that consideration should be given to thinking about a more arm’s length approach to commissioning on areas where there would be the potential to do what has happened in youth justice. That is why I mentioned women, because I think they can and should be treated in a way that is separate. There has been a long discussion about this, but at the moment that is all wrapped up in internal commissioning within the MoJ. That is my personal opinion; it is not the opinion of the board simply because the board’s remit is not to consider the question of women and justice. There is some learning within MoJ that ought to be drawn from the experience of youth justice. It may not be totally applicable, but there should be some thought given to that because that is an area where the MoJ might feel, in the longer term, that they could get better results with a particular group. Arguably, you could also talk about that in terms of over-18s or 18 to 25s. These are all areas of policy that are widely discussed. It seems to me that our experience has some relevance for that.
Q324 Mr Llwyd: On that very point, during the Committee stage of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, the Minister to whom we have already referred today said that he thought that that particular cohort had been left behind and there is not a dedicated suite of approaches to deal with the 18 to 25s. Has any work been done recently on that and have you been involved at all?
Frances Done: Yes. We have a very particular interest in that group, in the sense that we are responsible for making sure that our young people transfer either in the community being dealt with by youth offending teams or in custody being dealt with by the secure units that we commission. It is quite a challenging area. There is potential for the support and services to young people, who, after all, are potentially going to cause damage if they reoffend after release or after they finish their community sentence, making sure that they are dealt with in a way that is appropriate as they get to 18. I am pleased to say that there is now a real will among Government Departments-the MoJ included and NOMS-and we are working with them in a cross-Government group to identify the key issues about that and working on an action plan that will take those issues forward.
One of the starting points is information that every young person coming through our system gets transferred properly, accurately and in a timely manner into the probation system and ultimately into the prison system, if necessary. Some of the most distressing cases that have been investigated, where very serious crimes have been committed by young people over 18, have often turned on lack of information being available to those dealing with offenders later on. That is really crucial.
We are also very focused on the question of how you properly support some of the most vulnerable young people who are turning 18 and who, in no sense, are prepared for a system that is a very different one in adult prisons or in probation, where the level of support that probation are able to provide is much less than that provided by a youth offending team.
If you turn this on its head and think about the victims and communities that are being damaged by 18 to 25-year-olds who are committing crimes, it is a really important area. I cannot give you definitive results on that. This is a matter of developing policy that Ministers will have an interest in. I agree that it is absolutely key to making future progress. There are lessons to be learned from what we have been achieving, but there is also an awful lot that probation and the prison service will contribute to that.
Q325 Mr Llwyd: In fact this work is going on as we speak.
Frances Done: Yes.
Q326 Mr Llwyd: That is a good thing. In your opinion, how can the criminal justice agencies work better together and more effectively to improve the justice system as a whole?
Frances Done: The youth justice system is an example of how you can drive the joining-up of justice systems, but I would say it takes permanent vigilance to keep those partnerships going. We are focusing very strongly at the youth level on our relationship with local government nationally and local government locally in England and in Wales because they are really the key to a great deal of the progress that still has to be made. This is why there are developments towards the devolution of the custody budget towards local Government, working very much in partnership across all the agencies to deliver support to young people that prevents them from offending and ending up in custody. This sort of partnership working, in my view, is as relevant on the adult side of justice and is beginning to develop very strongly. You will see that in the MoJ pilots on payment by results and so on. I am no expert in that, but I am well aware of that move.
Partnership requires shared objectives. It requires good leadership. That applies across any part of the justice system, but it requires permanent effort on everyone’s part to be clear about what everyone is trying to achieve, to make sure they do not duplicate but there are no gaps in the middle of their services. That has improved enormously in youth justice over the last 10 to 12 years. There is still a way to go, and we have to keep on the case to make sure it happens.
Q327 Mr Llwyd: You referred to local authorities. Would I be right in thinking that a lot can be learned from youth offending teams and the way in which they work? Could their relative success be transferred to the agencies in Whitehall, for example, in terms of working closely together and having a common aim?
Frances Done: In principle, yes. My observation, as somebody who has worked with senior civil servants for probably 12 or 13 years now across a whole range of Departments-this is not just about the MoJ-is that Departments struggle with it because, in a sense, working very effectively together in a partnership requires you to share objectives and to be very clear what they are. That is not that easy to achieve across Government Departments. There will be different departmental agenda and so on. An example is the troubled families programme, where there is a great deal of intense cross-departmental effort on a programme that is potentially very worthwhile. We were 100% supportive of it, because, if you start identifying children in those families that are causing the most difficulty, without a doubt you will end up with fewer young people in the youth justice system. Watching the process of that happening, it is very hard work for Government Departments to achieve that.
I come from local government, and that sort of joint working has improved enormously. It is not perfect by any means, but it has improved enormously over the last 20 years. The reason is that, because they are so much closer to the ground, it is easier for the people who have to co-operate and share to see why it matters because it really makes a difference on the ground. With civil service Departments it is much more difficult. They are much more separate from why it matters that you join things up because they are not delivering a service on the ground. I just think it is much more challenging for them.
Q328 Mr Llwyd: And they live in silos, do they not?
Frances Done: There is a natural tendency to silos for every organisation, is there not?
Mr Llwyd: I did not expect you to answer that, anyway.
Chair: Thank you very much indeed, Ms Done and Mr Drew. We are grateful for your help this morning.
Examination of Witness
Witness: Peter Handcock CBE, Chief Executive, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, gave evidence.
Chair: Welcome, Mr Handcock. We turn now to the Courts and Tribunals Service as part of our inquiry into the functioning of the Ministry of Justice. I will ask Mr Turner to open the questioning.
Q329 Karl Turner: Thank you, Sir Alan. Good morning. The Courts Service and the Tribunals Service were merged in 2011. The Minister, Mr Djanogly, gave evidence to the Public Administration Select Committee and said that the merger of the two services was, in his view, one of the great successes in the last 12 months of the Ministry of Justice. I suspect you are bound to agree with that. In practical terms, how has the service improved for service users? What have the financial savings been, if any?
Peter Handcock: You are absolutely right; I am bound to agree that the merger has been a great success, and I can evidence that as well. There are a whole host of benefits that flow from bringing the two organisations together, not least in creating a single delivery infrastructure instead of the two that were there before. For example, it was a big challenge to reduce the level of management overheads so that we only had one team of managers. We seemed to be very rich in managerial capability; so we worked very hard to get that properly in scale. By the end of this financial year the total benefits taken out of the merger will amount to about £90 million. In a real way, that is £90 million in the front line of the business that would not have been there before.
On specific improvements in customer service, one of the other things that we argued was that the two systems have expertise they can share. The Tribunals Service had been very good at modernising its business model. It had, for example, customer contact centres. It had back office processing and all of that. On 19 March we will launch a national money claims service for 500,000 users of the county court. It is a transition that has been led by the former chief executive of the Tribunals Service, bringing his expertise into this new business and delivering in a more modern way.
As you might expect, if we had all day, I would be very happy to give you more examples. There are so many synergies and connections between the business, but the big things are taking out management overheads and changing the business model so that we get better value for money.
Q330 Karl Turner: Who has overall responsibility for ensuring that trials and hearings are conducted in efficient ways and in a timely fashion?
Peter Handcock: It is my responsibility to provide the supporting resources. The staff that deal with issues such as listing and the staff that support the staff in court are staff of my organisation. They work in partnership with the judges in delivering all of that. Absolute decisions on timeliness, such as when a case is listed and how a case proceeds once it is in court, are all decisions for judges.
Q331 Karl Turner: If it was such a fantastic idea, why do you think the previous Government did not come up with an idea like this? It sounds like a great idea. I cannot see any objection to merging the two services, to be perfectly honest.
Peter Handcock: I think that is an unfairly challenging question to ask really. The Courts Service and the Tribunals Service were created at about the same time-about a year apart. It was recognised that there was enormous value in bringing the magistrates courts into the Courts Service and bringing the tribunals together. At the time it was seen as just too much heavy lifting to be done in one enterprise. The organisations were always on a pathway that at some point would bring them together. The moment just seemed right. I think it would have happened and that was the plan regardless of Government.
Q332 Mr Llwyd: I do not share your optimism about how things are working at the moment. I have done 300 or 400 DLA disallowance appeals over the last so many years and I am having a devil of a job with the Tribunals Service at the moment. I send a list of dates, Mondays and Fridays, to them saying, "Please don’t list mid-week", and typically they fix it on a Wednesday. Then I have to go on my hands and knees to some judge in order to beg for another date; otherwise I say, "I will take you to the Minister if you say no because that person will be unrepresented." Then they relent and I get a letter back. They ignore the fact that there is a need for Welsh language provision in Wales. Frankly, since the amalgamation, it has been a disaster on the tribunal side.
Peter Handcock: I am disappointed to hear you say that. I do not want to pass the buck here at all, but, if we are talking about the listing of cases and when cases are brought on, that is a matter for judges and not a matter for me. I do not make those decisions. There is a specific issue, which I absolutely recognise, with the social security and child support jurisdictions. That arises from the welfare reform programme; they are the cases to which you refer. The consequence of the welfare reform programme has been to double the amount of work going into that jurisdiction.
We have worked incredibly hard to ramp up the capability of the tribunal to match that increase in workload, but there is always a lag. Whereas we might have been disposing of about 200,000 appeals a year, going back two years, we are now disposing of 500,000 appeals a year, and we will do as the welfare reform programme continues. Judges are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. There is a huge amount of pressure on the tribunal to get cases on at the fastest possible pace. There is some enthusiasm on the part of the judges, where they have an opportunity to list a case, to list it. It is disappointing if it is the case that, when, for example, there is not an appropriate hearing date or an appropriate venue or you can’t have a Welsh language interpreter, if that is necessary, you cannot get that deferred. I am very happy to go away and inquire about that, but that jurisdiction is having a really challenging time of it.
Q333 Jeremy Corbyn: The Secretary of State says that the courts process cannot set its own budget; therefore, the Ministry of Justice has to set the budget for it. Do you feel at any stage that there is an undermining of the independence of the judiciary by the Ministry of Justice holding the purse strings on what can be spent? Clearly what is spent affects the speed at which justice can be delivered.
Peter Handcock: It would be an interesting question to ask the Lord Chief Justice rather than me. I do have a view. From my perspective I have not felt, certainly since the agency was launched and it is only 11 months old, that the issue is that we do not have enough money. You could always do more with more, but the issue for me is the way in which we spend the money and the way in which we aim to get best value for that out of that money.
Q334 Jeremy Corbyn: How do you do the budget? Do you make bids or is it sent down to you?
Peter Handcock: I am a member of the departmental management board of the Ministry of Justice as well as chief executive of the Courts and Tribunals Service. I am part of the debate that sets budgets and part of the debate that goes on with the Treasury over budget setting. I am deeply immersed in that process at both ends. As I have said, there are some trade-offs to be made, are there not? The size of the court network and the number of locations that you continue to operate are all driven by cost. Interestingly, having closed 140-odd underused courts, I still find myself operating on well over 700 sites. I suspect the cost of maintaining that infrastructure has an impact on quality of service across the whole system. The issue for me is not so much about the absolute numbers but about the way in which we spend that money and whether we are spending it wisely.
Q335 Mr Buckland: I want to deal with the issue of the relationship between the judiciary and the Department as an arm’s length body. I have read your framework document and I understand there is a clear enjoinder in there for neither the Lord Chancellor nor the Lord Chief Justice to get involved in operational matters. There is an exception where there is a substantial issue of public or judicial concern. Could you help us as to the input that the judiciary have into the strategy that the Department sets? How would you characterise that at present?
Peter Handcock: There are formal, close and regular contacts between senior judges and policy makers in the Ministry. Across all policy areas, judges, as a matter of routine, would be part of the discussion about developing policy. So far as my organisation is concerned, of course there are three judges on the board. They are absolutely right in the mix in determining the strategy for the Courts and Tribunals Service. They are part of that decision-making process.
Q336 Mr Buckland: There are three senior judges. Let us look at the judiciary as a whole. We know that judges at varying levels will have their own viewpoints, some forcibly expressed. How do they make an input?
Peter Handcock: In my experience, every individual judge has a viewpoint. That is part of the difficulty. You cannot get a corporate view easily from judges at a working level. As a general rule, the Judicial Executive Board, the Lord Chief Justice and the senior judiciary speak for the judiciary as a whole on those matters of policy. They have their own machinery for establishing the views that run across the rest of the judiciary through things like the presiding judges’ network and so on.
Q337 Mr Buckland: With regard to operational matters-let us take efficiency savings-how receptive would you say the judiciary are to proposals that emanate from HMCTS about things like efficiency in operational matters?
Peter Handcock: It always seems to come as a slight surprise to everybody that the judges are really just like everybody else. Some of them are hugely committed to the efficiency agenda and some of them are coming along slightly more slowly. There is no doubt that there has been a marked tendency over the past few years for the judges generally to become more managerial and to have a much better understanding of the need for efficiency. It has not been difficult to settle a budget that has in it the kind of efficiency measures that we have needed to make to deliver savings of £90 million plus across the last financial year. The concordat with the Lord Chief Justice requires the Lord Chief Justice to agree to that budget. The HMCTS Board, which has judges on it, has to agree to that budget. It has not been difficult. It has been as difficult as it would be in any other bit of corporate governance to satisfy people that you are managing risk appropriately.
Q338 Mr Buckland: Touching on Transforming Justice, which is of course a Ministry initiative, with regard to involvement and support from the judiciary and the legal profession, what is your take on how the MoJ has attempted to secure that?
Peter Handcock: Transforming Justice is quite a wide portfolio of projects in effect. The whole purpose of the Transforming Justice system is to make a coherent agenda of that. The overall agenda is not of interest to all the stakeholders across the whole spectrum of projects. The way, for example, in which the legal profession or judges are bound in is in relation to the individual projects that are of interest to them. There are hugely extensive formal and informal mechanisms for talking to the legal profession about things like legal aid change, policy change and so on. Those are critical components of TJ, so people are brought in by engagement in the things that interest them rather than in the whole TJ portfolio.
Q339 Mr Buckland: I accept what you say about the differing priorities. The legal profession has so many different aspects to it.
Peter Handcock: The legal profession, for example, is not interested in the development of shared services within the Ministry, which is a way of saving money, but it is interested in the rehabilitation revolution and legal aid reform. It may be interested in some aspects of Courts and Tribunals Service integration. The practice is to bring those stakeholders into those projects individually. I think that works very satisfactorily.
If I think about the creation of the Courts and Tribunals Service, in the process of running a project to bring the organisation together we met something like 100 or so stakeholders from across the tribunal user community regularly and gave everybody an opportunity to influence the way in which we were doing that planning. I certainly have not had any complaints from anyone about the degree of stakeholder engagement. It varies across projects, largely on the basis of how much a particular stakeholder likes or does not like the projects.
Q340 Steve Brine: I have a left-field question, going back to what my colleague Mr Turner referred to earlier. You were the chief executive of Her Majesty’s Courts Service and before that the Tribunals Service. Maybe it is quite a robust question to have asked you why it was not done before, but did you ever suggest that it was done before, bringing those organisations together?
Peter Handcock: I was actually the chief executive of the Courts Service that preceded Her Majesty’s Courts Service. I then went off to run the Tribunals Service. When I was interviewed for the job, I did actually because, like everybody, I was concerned that the job needed to last a little while because I did not immediately have anything else to do. My question was, "Why are you doing this? Why are you not putting the Tribunals Service and the Courts Service together?" The answer at that time was, "We want to get both of these things done and we want to get them done on a reasonable time scale, and in order to do that we need to do them separately." Looking back on that with hindsight, that does seem to me to have been the right decision. The project to create Her Majesty’s Courts Service, which effectively was amalgamating 43 organisations-a big project-was a success, certainly from where I sit now; and, similarly, the project to create the Tribunals Service was a success. It would have been a much bigger challenge if we had tried to do everything at once.
Q341 Steve Brine: One had to come before the other, but maybe you could claim it was originally your baby. Turning to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Court Administration, what is your perception or your view on how the functions of that body will be carried out after its abolition? Do you recognise the concerns that some have expressed that you might be seen as self-regulating after that happens?
Peter Handcock: I understand why people would be concerned if we appeared to be self-regulating, but we are not, any more than any other agency is and possibly less. First of all, we are subject to scrutiny by our own internal auditors, who are independent. They come from the Ministry and not from the Courts Service. We are subject to scrutiny by the National Audit Office and the kind of value-for-money scrutiny that otherwise the Inspectorate might have done. We have governance arrangements that are quite different from those that were in place when the Inspectorate was created, including what I regard as a genuinely proper corporate board with independent non-executive members and the judiciary on it.
As chief executive of the agency, if I think about the way in which I am held to account, I am held to account from frankly more directions than you can shake a stick at. I am personally not convinced at all that the Inspectorate was likely to have added value if you think about all of the other accountability mechanisms.
Q342 Steve Brine: Obviously there is the stick shaking, but are you held to account in too many directions? That is possible, is it not?
Peter Handcock: Yes, it is. To be honest, this job is quite a challenge because in ordinary circumstances an agency chief executive has a straightforward accountability to Ministers and to the Permanent Secretary of the sponsoring Department. Agency boards are not generally executive boards in the way that mine is. My accountabilities are to an independent chairman, the Lord Chief Justice, the Justice Secretary and my Permanent Secretary. Given the position of the Courts and Tribunals Service in the constitution, those extra accountabilities are inevitable.
Q343 Elizabeth Truss: The NAO criticised the accounts of the HMCTS on several occasions and the accounts were disclaimed. What steps has the organisation taken to deal with that?
Peter Handcock: Can I just challenge that? Our accounts have never been criticised. The Trust Statement, which is a new requirement, was disclaimed, but we have a pretty good track record of what I would regard as prudent financial management and our accounts have generally gone in on time. The Trust Statement, though, was a real problem for us.
The Trust Statement is not an account of the operating costs of HMCTS; it is a statement of third-party money in effect. It is money that is collected on behalf of Government by HMCTS. That is fines, confiscation orders, fixed penalty notices and so on. We simply do not have an accruals accounting system to manage that money. We have never required one. The Treasury introduced a new requirement, but we do not have a system that can deliver what is required.
We have an accounting system that looks a bit like old-fashioned machine ledger cards, where somebody makes a payment and you put it in a machine, crank a handle and it prints the amount of the payment. From that system you cannot produce a properly consolidated auditable report of all those accounts. NAO simply were not able to say whether the Trust Statement was accurate or not.
Q344 Elizabeth Truss: But you think it is fit for purpose in terms of the job it is doing.
Peter Handcock: The system I use enables me to know, in relation to every single one of two million fine accounts, how much somebody owes on that fine account whenever they want to make a payment.
Q345 Elizabeth Truss: So yes is the answer.
Peter Handcock: It is fit for purpose operationally, yes.
Q346 Elizabeth Truss: I want to ask what benchmarking you have done of the Courts and Tribunals Service compared with other countries. I am particularly interested to understand the level of move over to an electronic case management system and all those kinds of things in other jurisdictions.
Peter Handcock: We have from time to time not made whole system comparisons but made individual comparisons of components of the system. It is really difficult to make whole system comparisons, partly because systems vary. Even if you look at common law jurisdictions, processes vary so much and the published data vary so much that it is difficult to match it to make meaningful comparisons. By way of example, we looked very carefully at the electronic case management system that is being used in Northern Ireland. We have looked again at the electronic case management systems in use in Australia in the Australian Family Court. We have looked several times at the sorts of systems that are in use in Singapore, particularly on the civil justice side. Every time we have done that, we have found that the obstacles to a meaningful comparison are almost overwhelming and they are hard to resolve at a reasonable cost. Systems used elsewhere are so closely tailored to processes in use in those jurisdictions that you cannot readily take something off the shelf or they are not scalable.
Q347 Elizabeth Truss: If you had to compare the generality of other countries, where are we in terms of electronic processing of court activities? Are we in the Premier League or the Conference?
Peter Handcock: I am inclined to feel that it is more like the Conference than the Premiership, but I think lots of justice systems around the world are also in the Conference. The standard is not all that high.
Q348 Elizabeth Truss: Have you benchmarked cost per case?
Peter Handcock: If you look at the published data-the OECD, for example, publishes data on expenditure on public safety-it is very difficult to isolate from that data a component that is attributable to the court system. If you can isolate the data in a component that is attributable to the court system, you then have to understand whether all the processes that take place in our court system are also in the court system in other jurisdictions.
Q349 Elizabeth Truss: But there are other countries that have similar legal processes, such as Canada and New Zealand.
Peter Handcock: It is very easy to say that. They are common law jurisdictions, but they do not have the same process. I do not know quite how to illustrate it. If you look at the end-to-end process, the division in the process between where the police operate, where prosecutors operate and where the court operates tends to be different across pretty well every jurisdiction. Each jurisdiction publishes data-of course it does-on the basis of where it puts those divisions. Trying to reconcile them to a different system is very difficult. To be honest, there is a very substantial investment required to make that sort of comparison meaningful. You have to have a pretty good idea that there is a business case for doing that in the first place.
Going back to the first part of your question, if I thought there was the remotest chance that I might be able to go and pick up a fully functioning case management IT system from another jurisdiction somewhere around the world and put it in, you wouldn’t see me for dust. I inherit a position where we run 300 IT applications and 70 different case management applications, when actually there are not 70 different jurisdictions. The reason for that is because what is available pre-packaged is extremely difficult to get into the system.
Q350 Elizabeth Truss: What concerns me, though, is that the Courts Service is the fulcrum of the justice system. We have been discussing commissioning and the idea of regional commissioning. Given that the court sits centrally in that process, which is where the individual is sentenced, not having that decent IT there has knock-on effects across the justice system, which means it is harder to operate. My concern is whether the analysis has been conducted at the Ministry of Justice level as to exactly how a new system would work. It does not have to be an all-singing, all-dancing system, but it has to have decent IT that is interlinked and compatible with other parts of IT in the system. I just add to that point the question about the televising of courts and the ability to deliver some of the efficiencies through televising so that at least it is easier to communicate what is going on in courts to the public.
Peter Handcock: We are making really good progress on the electronic transmission of data around the system. The Criminal Justice Efficiency Programme, which is a joint effort between the CPS, the police and HMCTS, is now delivering the comprehensive electronic transfer of documentation around the system. By the time we get to the beginning of April we will not be sending paper between the police, the CPS and magistrates courts. It will all be moving electronically. It will take a while to get that done in the crown court. These days that does not require massively complicated IT systems. It simply requires the use of something like digital vault technology that enables you to pull data into your own system. That is happening. In practice, certainly so far as the magistrates courts are concerned, by the time we get to 1 April, however anybody can transmit stuff to us, we will be able to receive it. We will be able to take an electronic file, secure e-mail or paper. We will be able to manage any of that.
On the use of video, we will have police to court video-links in place in every magistrates court in the country and every crown court in the country by the end of the next financial year, enabling people to give evidence without necessarily being moved from prison. We will have a growing number of live link suites in police stations, enabling people to make their first appearance and enabling police witnesses to give evidence from the police station without coming to court. The wider point about televising, of course, is not for me but for Ministers.
Q351 Elizabeth Truss: On this overall point, though, do you think the Ministry of Justice has enough focus on collecting and disseminating the evidence on what works and what does not work across the whole legal system? It seems to me that it should be possible to conduct some kind of benchmark of what court costs are in other countries. We should be able to best follow the evidence about which sort of rehabilitation or punishment process is most effective and courts should be able to receive that information. Is there just a bit of a silo mentality going on between the different parts of the MoJ where no one is looking at the whole piece?
Peter Handcock: I honestly do not think that is true. You have slightly widened the question by talking, for example, about rehabilitation. What I said at the beginning of this was that on particular issues, where there is likely to be a read-across and where the data effectively supports comparison, it is pretty much routine for the Ministry to look at experience elsewhere. On rehabilitation and on prisons, for example, it would be pretty routine to make those comparisons. Those comparisons then figure in the way that we make policy. On the provision of legal aid, for example, again those comparisons are made. The bit that frankly we have not done, and there would be some value in doing, is benchmarking court costs. I would be up for that but only if it is possible to do that at reasonable cost. The trouble is that disaggregating the data, which are published in different formats in relation to different processes in different countries and in different jurisdictions, is quite expensive and the product that you get at the end of that can be a bit variable.
Q352 Elizabeth Truss: Of all the systems you have looked at, which would you say is the most efficient system?
Peter Handcock: Of the justice system?
Q353 Elizabeth Truss: Yes, as part of this inquiry on the structure and function of the Ministry of Justice, where should we be looking?
Peter Handcock: I would not want to mislead you into thinking that I am any kind of authority on this. Over the years, meeting judges from a variety of jurisdictions across both the EU and more widely, and certainly from Canada and Australia, I do not think there is a significantly more efficient system than ours if you look at outcome. There are systems where, frankly, we might not think the outcome was the sort of outcome we would want in the UK, which operates at a much higher level of efficiency. Outcome for outcome, our system is pretty good.
Q354 Mr Llwyd: You may be aware that a few weeks ago we had a visit to the MoJ in Petty France. Some of us paused at the section where they were recovering costs and collecting fines. The current percentages of recovery on that day were very encouraging, quite honestly. I would like to ask you what progress is being made towards full cost recovery of fees and are you on course to bridge the gap by 2014-15?
Peter Handcock: On fees, the commitment is to have a fee structure in place that delivers full cost recovery by 2014-15, and I believe we will. We still currently have a fee gap of about £100 million. There are two ways in which that gap needs to be bridged. One of our difficulties in the past is that we have had relatively little commercial acumen applied to this process and, therefore, generating more income has always been a simple matter of putting up the price. When you put up the price, fewer people use the system. We have to do two things. We have to drive down our costs and make the gap meet somewhere in the middle. We have to make our business model, which is still essentially a 19th century business model, efficient so that it costs much less. Then we have to put in a system that recovers the full cost of that more economical and efficient system. We are on course to do that.
Q355 Mr Llwyd: Can you give an assessment, albeit early, of the pilots on aged debt? Why, may I ask, do you think the private sector would be more successful in achieving returns?
Peter Handcock: I need to be slightly cautious because we are still analysing the outcome of the pilot and part of the pilot has yet formally to complete, but it looks really promising. We are talking here about fine debt in particular, some of which is four or five years old and has been right through the process and is seen as unrecoverable in the process for which I am responsible. In every case the private sector partner, who took a proportion of that debt to work for us, was successful in recovering some money. In some cases it looks as if they may have been significantly successful in tracing offenders who we might have thought were lost for ever.
There are a number of reasons for that. One reason for private sector organisation success is the extent to which they are invested in the kind of technology that enables them to run contact arrangements with people very effectively. I simply do not have those sorts of arrangements and it is not easy for me to get access to the investment that would enable me to do that. They are heavily invested in technology that I do not have.
The second thing is that in the pilot they were not being paid at all but were participating in the hope that eventually we would take a proposition to market that they would want to bid for, and so they are strongly incentivised by the commercial opportunity. In a payment-by-results model they are strongly incentivised, are they not, because their remuneration depends on their success?
Q356 Mr Llwyd: When do you expect the reports to be available on how the pilots have worked?
Peter Handcock: Over the next couple of months. I can say, although it is still early days, that the results of the analysis are so compelling that it is quite likely we will want to take something to market.
Q357 Mr Llwyd: Do you believe that the confiscation order debt book should be on the HMCTS accounts?
Peter Handcock: No.
Mr Llwyd: That is a straight answer.
Q358 Chair: It is just embarrassing to have it there, is it?
Peter Handcock: I am responsible for enforcing about 18% of the debt book, and yet the whole debt book is on my accounts and I end up with a qualified Trust Statement. It is not just confiscations that I would like off my books, frankly. It is also things like fixed penalty notices from police forces. One of the reasons my Trust Statement was qualified was that it is pretty well impossible to audit fixed penalty notices issued in police stations across 42 police force areas by policemen, many of whom will still be carrying in their pocket the fixed penalty ticket stub of the book that is needed for audit purposes. Having that on my accounts is a real challenge. I doubt that we will ever get into a position where we have respectable auditable evidence in relation to that debt. The accounting responsibility is with the chief constable of each force, but the qualification on the Trust Statement-and consequently the criticism-is aimed at me. That does not feel entirely fair.
Q359 Chair: You have an alibi.
Peter Handcock: Unfortunately, the National Audit Office or the Public Accounts Committee in particular is not generally persuaded by alibis.
Q360 Mr Buckland: On fixed penalties, is it the police force that is responsible for collection or is it administered by the magistrates court?
Peter Handcock: It is collected locally. Once the ticket has been issued by a policeman there is a month to pay it, and that is collected locally by the police. Once it is a month old it just transfers automatically on to my IT system and then it becomes my responsibility. I do not have an audit trail for that item of debt before it arrives.
Q361 Chair: How have you got into a situation that a court had to resort to Google translation because they could not get a Lithuanian interpreter? There are other reported cases.
Peter Handcock: I had not heard that particular story. We let a contract for the provision of interpreter services because, by letting that contract, we were able to deliver both a more efficient and responsive service and a cheaper one. We spent quite a lot of time working through with the contractors on the transition and an implementation path for the new contract. When the contract launched, for quite complicated reasons, the contractor simply did not have enough people and was not able to offer the service, particularly in one or two-and still in one or two-relative minority languages.
In the first week of the implementation of the contract the level of fulfilment against the requirement ran at about 40%, which made life very difficult. As a result of that we immediately reverted large parts of our business to our old arrangements and went back to booking interpreters ourselves. The contractors, having, I think, been slightly taken by surprise by the difficulties, have worked pretty hard to put it right. As we speak, their fulfilment rate is close to 90% from the 40% it was at the beginning. It is partly the process of letting a new contract and putting it in place, but, frankly, we need to do much better at understanding the potential risks before we roll these things out.
Q362 Chair: There were quite a lot of warnings in this House and evidence before the Committee earlier that there may have been an underestimation of the challenges the contract posed.
Peter Handcock: Both within Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service and on the part of the contractors we simply underestimated the difficulty of getting the new contract in place.
Q363 Chair: Was the contract structured so that you have sufficient penalty and cancellation provisions at your disposal to deal with this situation?
Peter Handcock: It is. I made it very clear right from the outset that step one was to revert to our old arrangements, simply to roll back. Step two, if the level of performance did not improve very rapidly, would be to withdraw from the contract.
Q364 Karl Turner: On the interpreter issue, what is the problem? I can give you a very specific situation. My wife is a criminal solicitor in Hull. The contract is with a provider based in Leeds. I am not sure why, but I am told that, for whatever reason, the interpreters do not always want to travel to Hull. The local interpreters are not prepared to do the work because the fees are nothing like what they used to receive. Very recently a defendant appeared in Hull magistrates court charged with a shop theft to the value of a few pounds. I think he was Lithuanian. He was remanded in custody for five days. Eventually someone volunteered to interpret for the court. The district judge, who was hearing the case, agreed to accept this young man, who was on work experience with a firm of solicitors. He did not take the oath; he just volunteered and the judge agreed. Eventually the defendant was sentenced by the judge to a day in prison.
The cost of all of that is completely and utterly ridiculous to me. What are you doing about these interpreter contracts? Are you able to deal with that? Are you addressing the issue?
Peter Handcock: Is your point just about the interpreter or that all of that is generally disproportionate?
Q365 Karl Turner: That scenario is just completely mad, in my view. The reality of that is that, if the offender in the police station had been given legal advice and had had access to an interpreter, I suspect it could have been dealt with by way of an 80 quid fixed penalty ticket rather than an appearance in court and five days remanded in custody. The cost of that must run into many thousands of pounds.
Peter Handcock: I agree with you that it seems ridiculous. The availability of the interpreter is a critical problem here. The fact is that the contractors providing this service overestimated the willingness of interpreters to sign up under the terms of a new contract.
Q366 Karl Turner: Is that about the fee, though?
Peter Handcock: There will be a remuneration package.
Q367 Karl Turner: I have to be honest; I have always thought interpreters charge too much money, in truth. It is very often more than I would be charging per hour, even if I was representing the defendant privately. Is it about the money?
Peter Handcock: That is one of the reasons for wanting to put a proper contract in place rather than to be booking individual interpreters as a self-employed work force ad hoc. The idea is that the contract gives us more reliability, and ultimately it will. It will give us a better spread of languages and a better guarantee that we are using interpreters in an integrated way across the system. We started out with an implementation problem because we underestimated the extent to which people would not be prepared to sign up to these new arrangements. In the first couple of weeks after the contract was in place the numbers of people signing up to new contracts went up massively and it is still going up now.
If my memory serves me correctly, we have a problem with three languages where, nationally, the number of translators is not very high. They are Lithuanian, Romanian and Vietnamese. What I have said to the contractors is that they have to solve that problem quickly. The risk is not proportionate to the fulfilment level under the contract. You only need one person, for example, who ought to be deported and who is unable to be deported because there is not an interpreter available for an immigration hearing; or you only need one person for whom the custody time limit has expired and who has to be released unexpectedly on bail because no interpreter is available. I recognise that it leads to this kind of problem and this kind of risk, but I am just about satisfied at a fulfilment rate of 90% that we are making progress towards a decent level of performance. I suspect we are still going to be fingers crossed for another couple of weeks.
Q368 Chair: I want to move to this final question. You have had a long opportunity to observe the Ministry of Justice through your involvement in the Courts Service. How much has it changed and is it changing in the right direction as a Department?
Peter Handcock: It has changed massively, pretty much out of all recognition. For me, the pace of change in the Ministry has accelerated probably over the last four or five years. It now has proper and serious corporate governance that means what it says. Just looking at it as a chief executive on the receiving end of scrutiny from the Ministry and in debate about the delivery of change, money and all of that, it is a significantly more challenging place to work. It is much better at looking at performance, for example. It is much more focused on delivery. It is much better at putting money alongside performance, so commitments to delivery have to be very specific and then those commitments will be followed up in a way that would not once have been the case. It manages its money and its risks again in a properly corporate way that it probably did not five or six years ago. It feels like a better place to work.
I have always worried, certainly in past incarnations with the Ministry, about the huge amount of weight that attaches to criminal justice and that family and civil justice are poor relations, and they have been for years. It is the first time in my experience that the governance arrangements for the Ministry work in a way that gives those things proper balance and proper weight.
Chair: Thank you very much, Mr Handcock. We appreciate your evidence this morning.