Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-99)



  80. The impression, however, I must say to you and I will conclude on this point because obviously there is a dividing point for reasons which you know very well, as my colleagues do, is that it has not been taken as seriously as it should be. An editorial very recently in The Times argued along those lines, as no doubt you saw.
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) I did indeed. I do not think it would ever be possible to say on a subject like this that the balance has been struck absolutely right at any particular moment. We do have a proud tradition of free speech in this country and yet there are clearly bounds beyond which that free speech is so unacceptable that it may in itself give rise to serious violence and therefore is rightly punished as being criminal. All I can say is that the dedicated cadre of lawyers within the Service, together with those no doubt who assist the law officers in making their decision, are taking this very seriously indeed.

  David Winnick: I only hope so. I have some doubts, but if you say so.

Mr Watson

  81. Can I take you to the new CPS policy on domestic violence? Obviously there are half a million cases a year. What I am really looking for you to tell me is what framework you are putting in place to monitor and evaluate the new policy.
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) We have appointed in each CPS area where there was not one already, because a number of areas had already gone down this path before the launch of the policy, a domestic violence co-ordinator so that each area will be able to keep a much closer watch on the prevalence of cases, on the difficulties that cases within a particular area seem to suffer from, and to meet on a regular basis with their colleagues up and down the country to spread best practice and learn from mistakes. I think that is the most obvious visible way in which we are trying to make sure that the (I hope) good intentions in both these documents are carried out and monitored.

  82. What statistics will you be publishing to help verify the monitoring and evaluation?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Unless Steve can help me out on this, the answer is that I do not know that we have developed yet a way in which we will be able in advance of this nirvana of the Compass project which you have already been told about.


  83. We are coming to that in a minute.
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) We will actually have the manpower to be able to compile national statistics. What we will be able to do, I hope, and this is consistent with the Glidewell Division of the CPS, is on an area by area basis and in consultation with domestic violence fora within areas (because most areas have such fora, pressure groups and the like) to work together so that there is a tangible, if not statistically measurable, improvement in the way in which we deal with the cases, in the way in which the police deal with the cases and so on.
  (Mr Przybylski) We are conscious that the sort of information that we have been collecting locally on these cases has not been sophisticated enough to meet our requirements. What we are doing at the moment is consulting with various stakeholders internally and externally to see the sorts of things that we ought to be incorporating, so we are actively looking at what is going into our domestic violence monitoring.

Mr Watson

  84. So you are trying to establish some benchmarks with which to measure your new policy. Do you know when they will be in place? Can you give us an indication?
  (Mr Przybylski) I suspect that we will have a policy, a business requirement, identified in the not too distant future. I do not know that we have any immediate actions to put into place a coherent system that is going to draw information back to the centre before we have our computerised case management system but we will have the capacity to ask individual areas for information. For example, the sort of information we have captured before did not necessarily show whether cases were stopped on evidential or public interest grounds. We just knew that the victim had retracted and we did not know how many cases proceeded on the basis of guilty pleas or as trials. There are different ways of getting all this information and in order to capture this you have to put it in in the first place.
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) We used to carry out a three-month snapshot on an annual basis which was a fairly rough and ready, unsophisticated way of measuring our performance. As Steve says, there are a number of bits of the process which through lack of resources we do not count and which would enable us to identify particular bits of the process in which we may be falling down or improving. That is what we must try and get clear and I hope that Compass, as with so many other initiatives where we would like to be able to count better and account for better, will help us do this.

  85. You consulted widely on the new policy and received many plaudits from some of the victims' organisations and the women's aid organisations in particular. Are you intending to use the victim support organisation in implementing the policy?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Yes, certainly. As you probably know, there is a list of organisations at the back which (a) were consulted by us and (b) we will work together with on a national or local basis to take the issue forward.

  86. How many police forces consulted with Chief Crown Prosecutors to ensure that you have got a consistency in aims and approaches?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) I think that is a process still going on. As is inevitable with independent police forces, some move faster and some move more slowly.

  87. So it could be that there is a significant disparity with the implementation of the policy in different policing areas?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) It could be. We do not decide police policy. All we can do is to say that unless the evidence is gathered, on a domestic violence case which results, shall we say, in injury, within an hour or so of the incident, then it will be lost and we will have to rely simply on the word of the victim. There are a large number of police forces with marvellous work going on. I have been to a number of events with co-ordinators, particularly in this very city, where that is very much the borough policy at the local police station.

  88. Can I draw to your attention the Home Office circular 60/90 which directs police forces to liaise with Chief Crown Prosecutors in this area? What we are trying to look for is, if that is not taking place, if there is not a consistency of aims, that you have got a framework in place with which you can identify that problem and deal with it as there seems to be something falling through the net here.
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) It is possible. Can I come back to you on that in writing?[1]

  Mr Watson: Sure.


  89. Can we turn briefly to information technology, where I understand the CPS has managed to set up Connect 42 on time and within budget, which makes you unique in the public service. Can you tell us what Connect 42 enables you to do?

  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Connect 42 enables all lawyers and case workers and the vast majority of other staff to e-mail each other, to have access to the Government's secure intranet, to have access to all the principal tools of the criminal lawyer's trade, such as Archbold, Blackstone, the Law Reports, to access the court lists which are also on the net, and to access the internet generally in the limited way that government employees can.

  90. But it does not enable you to talk to the police or the Probation Service?

  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Not yet.

  91. Is that where Compass comes in?

  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Indeed.

  92. Can you tell us how that is going to work?

  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Compass will in due course, we believe, with compatible technology in other areas of the system to be overseen by Jo Wright, the new co-ordinator of the Criminal Justice Information Unit in the Home Office, with whom we are working closely (as are other agencies), enable a case file to be transmitted electronically from the police to us, from us to franchised defending solicitors and to members of the Bar, and from us to the court with appropriate secure walls for information which should not pass. That is the ultimate objective. On the way, as we have been saying from our own internal point of view, it will enable us to belatedly move into the area that the most modern large firms of solicitors are in, which is effectively accounting for the time of every employee, the decisions every lawyer makes, when they make them and what they were, so that the current poor performance—I have to say brought about principally by pressures of time—in routinely recording the reasons for decisions and when you make them is brought up to speed so that (a) we will be able to make sure that we do what we are supposed to do, and that (b) we will be able to tell bodies like yourselves, cut almost any way you like by offence, type of defendant and so on, how we are performing.

  93. What is the timescale for Compass?

  (Mr Calvert-Smith) We signed the contract, again on time, at the very end of last year. There is a four-month process coming to the end of April where we establish our intelligent customer function with the chosen supplier. There will be, and I have just been passed the actual dates, a fully managed service, that is, the CPS service, in place by October of this year, an interim case management system completed by December of the following year, 2003, and what is described as the full case management system by December of the following year. We would hope that shortly thereafter, but this depends to an extent on the progress of compatible IT systems in other agencies, the entirely linked system will be in place.

  94. Very laudable but highly ambitious.

  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Highly ambitious. All we can say is that, as you point out, a large number of mistakes have been made, both inside and outside Government in the past. We have done our level best to be informed as to what those mistakes were and try and make sure we do not commit them and to recognise and minimise the various risks along the way, and of course Richard Foster has a very close eye on the project as it is rolled out.

  (Mr Foster) The only two things I would add are that projects do need to be looked at and gripped very carefully and there is always a balance to be struck between doing particular things in individual agencies, which are smaller and more closely grippable and therefore you can get them right and within your own control, and having a strategic and joined-up system across the criminal justice system. We want both but it is getting that balance right between getting on with the individual things and not getting held up with those but not going so far in particular agencies that you get in the way of developing a more joined-up system. It is getting that balance right which is the really difficult bit of the challenge and I wish Jo Wright, who will be in the hot seat on that, the very best of luck and we will be giving her the very best of support in achieving that together.

  95. We all wish her luck. Then along comes Sir Robin Auld. Are his recommendations helpful or unhelpful?

  (Mr Calvert-Smith) On this topic?

  96. On this topic.

  (Mr Calvert-Smith) That is really for the Government in due course in the White Paper that will come out in the spring or early summer to make a decision on. In the meantime we have been given the clear indication that even if a single case management agency were to be created with one system, that would not come on board for ten years or so, so that in the interim we ought to be working towards getting our own IT in order because we as a Service simply cannot wait and not be able to answer Mr Watson's questions for another ten years, and that it is at least as likely—but this is a matter for Government in due course—that we will have a quasi-Auld solution with some kind of over-arching agency such as the one set up under Mrs Wright, but with individual systems.

  97. How are staff coping with all this change and the threat of more?

  (Mr Calvert-Smith) I think the fact that there is already new technology which works—Connect 42 actually works—has been an enormous encouragement, because other programmes have not always worked, or not worked as well as we hoped they were going to. Secondly, the fact that we have actually got visibly more people in almost every office as a result of our ability to recruit more lawyers and administrative staff has also been enormously encouraging because for a long time I, and I suspect previous Directors of Public Prosecutions, have had to be talking about jam tomorrow rather than jam today, and there is now some jam on the table, which I believe made the reception of all this new technology, the speaking up for justice provisions, the move to the Glidewell Criminal Justice Units, earlier involvement with the police, easier to take on board if only because it is possible to carry out the training and the backfilling necessary while people are being trained to keep the show on the road. Although clearly there is always apprehension about new initiatives, I think that the Service is in a much better position to take them on than it was even two years ago.

Angela Watkinson

  98. In September last year the period of time between arrest and sentence for persistent young offenders was reduced from 20 weeks to ten. Has any further progress been made since then? Ten weeks still seems to be a relatively long period.
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) The latest figures are slightly down—I mean in a good way—in that they are less, although I do not think they have yet been officially published, but I think that the encouraging trend continues. When one says it seems a long time, the average so far as the vast majority of cases are concerned is much lower. It is the cases at the top end which distort the figures and if one had one's time again one might have tried to devise a system which actually removed those, albeit identified them. Some Crown Court cases where a youth is charged jointly with an adult can take months to come to trial and if you are in a small area like Gloucestershire or Wiltshire or Warwickshire one case like that will add 15 days to your overall figures. Likewise, when defendants—and we have heard something about this already—go on the run and are then arrested two years later, tried and convicted, that is a two-year wait to come to trial which nobody can do anything about and yet they are in the statistics.

  99. If you were able to exclude those extreme cases your average would be lower?
  (Mr Calvert-Smith) Much. If one looks at the magistrates' court, which is where most persistent young offenders are tried, because it is only on rare occasions that it is sufficiently serious for it to be tried in the Crown Court, the figure is much less, I think in the thirties in terms of days.

1   See Ev 15-16. Back

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