Examination of Witness (Questions 120
MONDAY 24 JUNE 2002
120. The point I am making is that your argument,
as I understand it, was that the decision on defaulters should
be subjectively made in each case, possibly to a community sentence
in the event of defaulting. The example I have given and I suspect
it is not an isolated example, shows that community sentences
for many people hold no fears whatsoever and fines are no deterrent
because they know they will not pay them anyway and they know
that if then sentenced to community service they will not finish
that. Eventually somewhere along the line, maybe two or three
years away when they have re-offended on numerous occasions, somebody
might actually give them a custodial sentence. At that particular
time the whole thing is irrelevant to them. Do you not think that
is part of the problem?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) I have to say that it is rather
beyond my brief to comment on the whole range of sentencing policy
which is indeed really for the magistrates and the judges to conclude
on. The structure is meant to be that fines are used for the least
serious offences and then you are meant to work up through a hierarchy
until you are dealing with the much more serious offences or repeated
offenders where prison will be considered. That essentially remains
the sentencing policy pattern and I would think that was the right
pattern. That is what you are saying, I think.
121. It is very kind of you to interpret it.
Earlier it became increasingly apparent that the computer system
you are piloting now and rolling out will not really be effective
until 2004. I have not misunderstood, have I?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) No, that is what I said. It
is a year late.
122. We have a serious problem and you are taking
some measures and you are hoping that it will come down. Do you
think there is anything in the meantime which could be done? We
are talking about 18 months away and I have to say that in areas
like mine some of the problems we are experiencing might be dealt
with better if we had an effective fine system, but at the moment
we do not seem to have anything. We have community sentences which
often do not work, fines which do not work. Is there any way in
the meantime you can speed up that process without the computer
system, make it more sensible and make it more of a penalty rather
than what at the moment seems to be a licence not to do anything?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) Yes, there are things which
can be done, but they have to be done on the basis of individual
areas rather than big national schemes which take time to get
off. The ways in which individual magistrates' court areas are
going about using the new money is our best hope in this. The
hiring of new civilian enforcement officers in some areas. Another
area I know is spending money on a stand-alone until they get
the IT system from us on a tracking project so they can track
through where the warrants are and the speed with which they are
pursued. A number of other courts are buying in additional administrative
staff to support more frequent court sittings to hear these things.
At the moment we really have put a very substantial proportion
of these resources into the system with a series of defined projects
and between now and the IT system we were talking about earlier
coming on stream, that is the most practical way of trying to
123. To be honest, I am a bit more confused
now than when I asked the question. I accept that it is put into
areas where it can have some useful effect, but putting more money
into anything can be a useful way of dealing with it. I can understand
how a stand-alone system could be implemented which would enable
them to track individual offenders more closely, but you implied
that there was a lot more happening and yet I only understood
those two things. Is more happening?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) In terms of attempting to speed
up the system?
124. What exactly is going on with this additional
money other than buying stand-alone systems, which is probably
quite a waste of money because in 18 months' time a completely
new system will be in place?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) Under current arrangements most
of the money will be goingand I can give details of this
for a whole range of parts of the country and I can send you information
about that in detailinto additional staff for enforcement
which will create the time for them to spend in tracing offenders,
in tracking them down, in interviewing them and so on. Resources
have not been there in the past. While you are still dependent
on a new IT system coming on stream, that will make quite a difference,
I hope, during the course of this year. It is a two-year scheme.
We are funding them for two years while we evaluate the impact
of that. I think that is the best practical way forward that I
can suggest to the Committee.
125. May I pick up on the questions about this
computer system? Would you tell us something about the memo which
your Department sent to magistrates' courts about the problems
you were having with distribution, the one which was in all the
(Sir Hayden Phillips) We have explained to them that
there were problems with the construction of the software in the
standard package and that this was leading us to renegotiate or
have discussions about the renegotiation of contracts to make
sure this was delivered and that basically it was delayed. That
is the position as I understand it now.
126. Your memo says that despite the best efforts
of all those involved, you have been unable to reach an agreement
with Fujitsu on a proposition for Libra which represents value
for money and which you can afford. It is a bit more definite
than what you have just said.
(Sir Hayden Phillips) We have been unable so far to
reach that agreement, but our discussions are not at an end.
127. It also says that you are discussing a
fallback position. What is the fallback position?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) If the discussions lead to a
position where we cannot secure it through them, we will have
to look to another supplier whom we would judge was capable of
doing the task.
128. What implication would that have for people
down on the ground who are waiting for this system?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) We have said to them that our
plan is to make sure that not only all the infrastructure but
also the standard software system is delivered by the end of 2004.
That is our target. That would be no different a position than
the one which they now have.
129. According to the General Secretary of the
Association of Magisterial Officers, Ms Rosie Eagleson, if the
core service is not delivered you are right back to square one
except that enormous sums of public money will have been expended
to deliver the sort of hardware and software that is available
off-the-shelf at PC World. Do you agree with that?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) No.
130. You do not agree with the Association of
(Sir Hayden Phillips) No.
131. All they will get is a load of computer
terminals without the software which is going to enable you to
allow magistrates' courts to speak to each other.
(Sir Hayden Phillips) If everyone went out and bought
individual PCs in the way that implies, you would not have a national
network, you would not have a national network of servers and
security and you would not have backup and resilience across the
board, which is why we have a national system. That would provide
for every magistrates' court to be linked by e-mail and information
would be exchanged electronically and the sort of thing which
has been criticised before by members of the Committee, namely
that we did have different systems all over the place, will mean
that they can now be linked up. There is a difference between
that and going down the road and buying something.
132. With the greatest of respect most computers
you can buy at PC World enable you to communicate with each other
(Sir Hayden Phillips) No, what I said was that the
main thing was to have a national infrastructure, national backup,
so that you are assured that these services can consistently be
maintained between courts right across the country.
133. What is the cost of the deal? Since you
have been Permanent Secretary can you tell me something about
how the cost of the deal has increased?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) When the contract was signed
in 1998 it was £183 million and that was revised in 2000
to provide a range of additional services and a longer timescale
to the order of £300 million. We are now in discussions,
looking at what the contract should now be and what the price
134. In other words the cost has virtually doubled
and the timetable for delivery of the system has also virtually
(Sir Hayden Phillips) Yes.
135. That is not very good value for money,
(Sir Hayden Phillips) The value for money judgement
has to be made when we see what the actual results are and what
the final cost is over what period.
136. According to these various newspaper reports,
the answer you were not prepared to give Mr Williams, but if we
were all readers of Computer Weekly we would know, is that Fujitsu
is expected to receive more than half of the contract's value
because it is now being paid to deliver the PCs and Microsoft
Office support software anyway. So it is in line to get over half
the money even if it does not actually deliver the core service
you were looking for. Is that correct?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) We are looking to see the extent
to which they can deliver the core service. They have already
rolled out 75% of the basic infrastructure service and they are
servicing that, so we are bound to pay them for that particular
137. Why could you not have said that earlier
to Mr Williams in answer to his questions? Apparently it has all
been published anyway.
(Sir Hayden Phillips) I thought I had explained this.
As far as I know, we have made no announcement by the Department
formally about the state of negotiations or our plans. This information
is based on conversations which journalists have obviously had
with people around the system. I am in some difficulty in commenting
on stories of that nature.
138. If I might suggest, this may be an issue
which the National Audit Office should look at as the basis for
a report in itself on Libra the computer system but my time is
limited so I shall move on. One of the things you have said is
that you are looking at a whole range of further sanctions which
can be applied to people who do not pay up. What about the sanction
of imprisonment? It says in this report, which I found a most
staggering figure, that in 1994 22,469 people were imprisoned
because of non-payment of court fines. In the year 2000 only 2,500
people were imprisoned, just 10%. Why has there been such a dramatic
fall in the number of people imprisoned for non-payment?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) Two basic reasons for that.
The first is a general concern to try not to send to prison unnecessarily
those people whom it would not in itself be the right sanction
for given the size of the prison population. The most important
cause of that was reported in the NAO Report and was a judgement
in 1995 which laid down the conditions by which magistrates should
decide whether or not someone should go to prison. The court has
to be satisfied that a person's refusal to pay is wilful and the
court has considered and tried all other means of enforcing payment
and that they consider them to be inappropriate or unsuccessful.
The defendant has to be examined in detail by the court on every
single aspect and the warrant for committal to prison has to specify
the reasons why no other course of action is right. Basically
that is the historical position as I understand it.
139. Did you never make an attempt either with
the previous Government or the current Government to introduce
legislation which would get round that judgement which has obviously
led to an absolutely catastrophic fall in the number of people
(Sir Hayden Phillips) Not so far as I know. I have
no record that either the previous Government or this Government
concluded that the court's decision, the criteria, should be changed
by legislation. This is something which Ministers in this Government
or the previous Government could have looked at. It is only right
to say that the pressure on the prison population is such that
it would be very difficult to contemplate trying to reverse this
in a major way because you would end up with either lots of short-term
prisoners in jail, precisely the people for whom it is not the
right punishment, and the over-crowding is such that it is a very
difficult thing to contemplate.
10 Ev 28 and 33-34 Back
Note by witness: The court has to be satisfied that the
default is due the defaulters wilful refusal or culpable neglect
and the court has considered or tried all the other means of enforcing
payment of the sum and it appears to the court that they are inappropriate
or unsuccessful Back