Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 1-19)




  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 Department—it 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 three—one 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 Committee—whichever one it is—was able to take evidence—jointly 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 of it.

  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 link—in 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 our proposal?
  (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?

Bridget Prentice

  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 users—principally victims and witnesses—and 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 report.

  16. So we will see a more streamlined report in future?
  (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 out—witnesses will get frustrated and irritated and may drop away from the case—and 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, possibly—coming back to the question about perversity or otherwise—to 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 up—and 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 us—if I can put it that way—we 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.

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