Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 100-119)




  100. When the five tests are met!
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) We are aiming to try to complete this before the summer recess. Now, that either means by Wednesday lunchtime or, if you take the House of Lords, it gives me a bit more time until the middle of next week. We are, I hope, close to a decision here, but I am afraid I cannot answer the question precisely today.

Bridget Prentice

  101. We shall look forward to that. Presumably when those discussions are concluded, you will announce that immediately or as near to immediately, some time thereafter.
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) We will announce it straightaway. I will write to the Chairman, as it were, just before the announcement is made, whenever it is, and I will do the same if it has to be made when the House of Lords is sitting and the House of Commons is not sitting and if we slip beyond that, I would obviously let the Chairman know the moment that the announcement is made.

  102. What has the effect of Libra been on other projects on linking up IT in the courts system?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) Perhaps I can ask Ian to comment.
  (Mr Magee) This is facts, not contract negotiations, so I can speak to this, that the first part of the Libra contract was to roll out an infrastructure the magistrates' courts did not have and that job is 75% completed now to evidently, judging by the levels of complaints having eased off, a high standard. This is the provision not only of PCs, servers, et cetera, but also of networks to support all of that and help-desk, et cetera, facilities. I do not think that the renegotiation of the Libra contract, which is what this is about, has had any detrimental effect at all on IT and the rest of the criminal justice system. The effects have solely been, important though, on the magistrates' courts community and they would have been worse if we had not managed to roll out, for example, e-mail as we have been as part of the infrastructure.

  103. Do you think that you will treat future projects differently as a result of your experience with Libra?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) Yes, I think you learn from all these projects where they do not turn out totally satisfactorily on either side. I think departments generally have to think about when they are working with suppliers what they are best at doing and concentrate on using their major skills rather than necessarily having an arrangement in which you assume that any particular company can do every aspect of every project. That is what we are now negotiating with Fujitsu about, so I should not say any more, but we will certainly learn the lessons from this and what I would be very happy to do, in addition to letting the Chairman know when an announcement is made, is letting the Committee have a note, when we have reflected on those lessons, about what we think we have learnt from the process and how we would deal with future contracts.
  (Mr Magee) What it has done is to bring together in one place in the Department through me responsibility for virtually all of the IT issues that affect the totality of the court work and the other tribunals for which the Lord Chancellor is responsible. What I do in turn is work very closely now with the recently appointed Head of Criminal Justice IT in the Home Office as far as the criminal justice side of how we intend to improve progress.

  104. The Home Office have not been examples of best IT projects either, have they?
  (Mr Magee) Might not "have been". I think it is a question of tense rather than where we all intend to get for the future.

  105. I do not wish to jeopardise your discussions with Fujitsu, but are there penalty clauses attached to these contracts?
  (Mr Magee) Yes.[2]

  106. Is that standard?
  (Mr Magee) It is standard. You are beginning to get into the area of potential negotiations.

  107. I am keen that next week's announcement will actually take place.
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) Or this week's announcement.

  108. Or this week's, even better. If I may move on to CAFCASS, that had in its birth a number of problems and when the Lord Chancellor came to the Committee in October, he said that there were still some problems there. What lessons do you think you have learnt from the setting up of CAFCASS?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) First of all, when you are making a major reorganisation, you really do have to give yourself time to implement it and we did not give ourselves, I think, enough time. The timetable was rather driven by the creation of the National Probation Service and I think had we been given more time, we would not have had some of the teething problems that we had. When you set up a new organisation of three different component organisations, you have to give yourself the time to create a new central structure to manage all that. That had to be done alongside trying to run the system and of course, as I think you know, the organisation was, as it were, badly deflected from what we wanted it to concentrate on by an industrial relations dispute lasting for a very large part of last year and into early this year which has now fortunately been settled, but the combination of those factors made it a difficult start. However, having said that, the Magistrates' Court Service Inspectorate inspected CAFCASS in the last, I think, three months of last year and said that, generally speaking, the services that were actually being delivered on the ground had not suffered as a result of the change compared to the level and the quality from before. What we are now at the moment concerned about, to be absolutely frank with the Committee, is that we are able to tackle backlogs of cases and delays in allocating cases that are building up in London, in the north-east and a little bit in the south-west and trying to make sure that we are able to boost the number of staff, whether employed or self-employed, over a reasonably quick period. I think also the other thing we have to do, and when I say "we", I mean the CAFCASS Board which is an NDPB, not a part of the Department, is to try to develop training programmes so that specialists in private law children's cases can switch to public law care cases and vice versa to give us greater flexibility in the allocation of cases to the guardians. So it has been through a difficult period, has been stabilised to some extent, but there is more work to be done in terms of trying to tackle some of the delays and backlogs in certain parts of he country.

  109. Apart from the backlogs and delays, what are the key factors which would need to be met before you are satisfied that CAFCASS is working in providing the kind of services you want it to provide?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) I think the publication and settlement of national standards of performance, consulted on, that they did in May, and they hope to come to conclusions this summer, during July and August; having in place a clear and well-understood and well-working complaints procedure, and there is an interim process at the moment; further improvement in information technology, although the initial investments have not proved too bad, and I think above all being able to put behind the organisation the industrial relations and staffing problems which are now largely over and really concentrating on the work with children and getting that much more as a headline message for the whole organisation. Can I revert back to something which Ian mentioned earlier which was about the delays in family cases. To be frank with the Committee, if there is an area that does worry us, it is this family area and it would like a concerted attempt on improvements to CAFCASS, which is very important for the children in the case, through the court system to try to speed up the cases which take far too long and through the judiciary, through the President of the Family Division, making sure that the right judges are allocated to the cases, that they are well qualified, they do quite a bit of family work, and that the whole system is put together in a satisfactory way. I think this is an area on which we must concentrate harder for the future.

  110. You say "the right judges allocated to the cases", so are there cases of wrong judges being allocated?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) Well, not wrong in the sense of, "Gosh, we shouldn't have had this chap. He was simply awful", or, "This woman, she was absolutely no good", but I think what I am referring to here is the way in which in the past the allocation of specialist tickets to do this sort of work has not been totally satisfactory in the view of the President of the Family Division and she wants to review the whole of the way that that is done to make sure there is a stronger role for family liaison judges across the country and it is run much more like the way in which the judicial role is run in relation to the criminal courts through the senior presiding judge and the presiders who give a clear sense of direction and make sure that there is a regular review of the extent to which judges in these areas are actually having experience of these cases rather than doing them only intermittently and also taking up all the training that is regularly required to keep people up to speed.

  111. You said earlier that we all learn from past experience. In setting up CAFCASS and with its immediate problems, how much did the Department learn from the Public Trust Office?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) I think they were quite different animals in a sense. The setting up of CAFCASS was the creation of a wholly new organisation from different component parts. As I say, I think my to principal concerns there were the amount of time that was given to people to do it and the fact that it then happened to be hit by an industrial relations dispute. In relation to the old Public Trust Office, I think there is an example of an organisation which had gone along in the same way for a very long period of time which I do not believe the Department paid sufficient attention to and which had, as it were, got itself into a position in which its ways of working and the standards it had set were just not up to the right quality, which was why we made the change there to a quite different sort or organisation. It was a quite different problem, which was not the creation of something wholly new, but the revitalisation of something which had become rather moribund, so I do not think there is a sort of direct read-across between the two types of case.

  112. But there were problems in terms of industrial relations and staff morale, so was there not something there which may have alerted you to potential problems?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) The main thing that alerted me to potential problems there was the fact that we are back to our old friend, targets. There were certain targets for the PTO. They were regularly met and they did not appear not to meet them, but they did not really tell you about the real nature of the business and what was going on underneath. Once one realised in fact that the level of service was not terribly satisfactory, despite what the targets told you, then it was quite clear that changes had to be made. There were staff morale problems once we announced that we were not satisfied with the PTO and we were going to create a new organisation out of it. I think a lot of staff felt they were being unfairly criticised and singled out. There were other staff morale problems when it was quite clear that we could no longer afford to stay and have a central London location in the Kingsway and we moved to Archway, but again I do not think there was a precise read-across between the two situations.

  113. But both organisations were dealing with vulnerable people who in effect are not able to speak for themselves because they are mentally ill or they are young children.
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) I absolutely accept that and I think the main feature where I do think we do draw a common lesson is that in these areas what is called 'client services', the customer focus that you have, has got to be of really high quality and that is the area where currently I would want to place the greatest emphasis both for CAFCASS and for what is now the Public Guardianship Office. On the other hand, mentioning the PGO, it has in two areas the two actions which were most criticised when I appeared before the PAC some while ago, it has made great strides. They had fallen behind in collecting accounts from receivers, they had fallen behind in reviewing those accounts, and they have made massive strides in improving that. There were far too few visits undertaken to the vulnerable and their receivers and that has been massively changed and in the last year I think something like 6,000 visits were undertaken which was, I think, a tripling of the amount of close contact there had been with clients, so there are some very good features, but at the moment in the PGO rather as CAFCASS there are backlogs that may lead to complaints, and you spend your time dealing with complaints rather than dealing well with the client in the first place, so in that respect we are looking at the organisation and similar problems now and we want to try and tackle them in a sensible way.

  114. You have mentioned the business of complaints a couple of times in your responses. Tell us a little bit more about how these complaints have been dealt with in CAFCASS and have there been more complaints as time goes on or is there a steady stream?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) I do not, I am afraid, have the statistics for complaints on CAFCASS with me or in my head. I mentioned earlier that I think they have an interim system in at the moment and I think we want to make that a full system. The number of complaints in relation to the PGO has risen and I think Ian Magee would agree, as someone who deals with this sort of area on his side, that the number and nature of complaints is a very good and helpful indicator of the quality of the service, and you really need to take it seriously in looking to see why things are going wrong. What usually goes wrong is the initial contact that people make with the organisation and delays at that stage and the real answer is not necessarily to have a superb complaints procedure, although so you should, but getting the job right the first time. That might be something Ian wants to comment on.
  (Mr Magee) Well, to the extent that I do not think that I have got it right yet in the Court Service, it is an area we are giving attention to at the moment, but actually we are learning from mistakes that are made, getting it right first time, cutting out all that gratuitous process that you get when you have to correct errors which is something that I think every organisation needs to do in this day and age, public or private.

  115. Could you perhaps send us a note on complaints in CAFCASS and what has been done to correct that?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) Absolutely, yes, I will.[3]

Mr Cameron

  116. Could you address in that letter whether you think the complaints procedure needs to be in some way independent of CAFCASS? You talk of welfare officers having a very important role and if they get it wrong, I am sure we have all had constituency cases where when our constituents are told they have got it wrong, there is a sense of frustration from the constituent that there is no one to complain to, apart from the sort of line manager of the court welfare officer within CAFCASS.
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) I will certainly set that out and deal with the issue of internal versus independent supervision and, as it were, an appeal process. As I mentioned, CAFCASS is inspected by the Magistrates' Court Services Inspectorate and certainly one of the things I can ask them to look at is their complaints procedure, but I know your concern is with the individual complaint rather than the system. I will certainly cover that as well.

Mr Singh

  117. Sir Hayden, how concerned are you about the large number of solicitors firms unwilling to take publicly-funded work?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) In most areas of the law there are sufficient lawyers who provide publicly-funded services. That is the first point. In the memorandum we gave you, we indicated that there had been a drop.

  118. Of 6%.
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) Of 6%, yes. They are mostly, as I understand it, in the field of family advice, possibly some in asylum. We are concerned that we watch those gaps very carefully and where we can try to plug them. For example, over the last couple of previous years we have put more money into some family work and into asylum work in parts of the country where there were shortages. In asylum it has been a problem of expanding demand and trying to catch up with that. As I briefly mentioned earlier, I think this is both a short-term concern but also more fundamentally we want to try to make sure that public funded work is sufficiently attractive for people to come into it, which is why we have taken one step which is to put £1.5 million into tuition fees and training contracts to encourage firms to take on more people who will work in these areas and that is something which I think is valuable. There have been some enhancements to remuneration particularly in what I am told is advanced family law work. Beyond that we have to look to see whether the problems do continue.

  119. Is there any threat to the provision of community legal partnerships across the country?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) No. I think that on the whole in relation to those we have been very pleased with the way it has worked. Ninety-nine per cent of the country has now got a community legal service partnership which I think if you had asked me three years ago when we began this campaign I would have said I thought was a very over-ambitious target but it has been very successful. The process of linking up different providers, public, private, voluntary, has produced, I think, a signposting system for where people can get information about solving their legal disputes and legal problems in a way which was just not there before. That is enormously encouraging. The supply generally in most areas of the law from publicly funded lawyers is good but there are some spots of difficulty which we are trying to tackle. I think that is the overall picture.

2   See Ev 53. Back

3   See Ev 49-50. Back

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