Examination of Witness (Questions 180
MONDAY 24 JUNE 2002
180. How does someone ignore a summons to appear
before a court if the system does not have their address?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) You mean if they have never
received the summons.
181. If you do not know where they are, how
can they have ignored a summons to appear?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) People are summonsed on the
basis of the last known address. They may not be there because
people move on and often quite rapidly. This is as true in the
problem of enforcing civil debt as it is in crime.
182. May I ask about these payment rates? There
are several reasons for the variation and the report alludes to
one or two of them. Were you basically saying that one of the
underlying reasons is the socio-economic difference around the
(Sir Hayden Phillips) Yes; in some areas that is the
183. In that case can you explain why the payment
rate in Staffordshire is 90%, whereas in Surrey it is only 58%?
When one thinks Gin and Jag one does not think of Staffordshire,
but one does think of Surrey. So the socio-economic conditions
in Surrey, where you have a payment rate of 58% would appear to
be a lot better than those in Staffordshire where you have a payment
rate of 90%.
(Sir Hayden Phillips) It is very difficult to answer
these things off the cuff. It depends on the mix of cases, the
type of cases which have been flowing through the system over
time. It is a fact that if a court's area has a large stretch
of motorway going through it, it tends to have a high payment
rate because of the number of fixed penalties for motoring offences.
There are all these variations. On the face of it, it is very
difficult to say that this must be a good result, this must be
a bad result. What I have undertaken in response to Mr Field's
question is to find the ten areas or courts which we think have
overall, taking account of all the factors involvedand
there are several of themgiven us at the moment a very
good performance compared with the rest.
184. From that you will draw up a standard enforcement
procedure, will you, which you will promulgate to all the others?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) It is difficult for me to do
that or for the Lord Chancellor to do that because it is the responsibility
of local magistrates' courts committees. We can give guidance
but we cannot force them to do things unless we find that they
have failed completely to follow best practice.
185. Presumably unless you legislate to change
(Sir Hayden Phillips) Absolutely.
186. You could advise Ministers that in light
of this woeful record, it was time to legislate, could you not?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) Yes. I think they would want
to take account of a number of other considerations apart from
the report here.
187. But it is open to you to do that. I should
like to ask about paragraph 2.27. It says, "In some courts
the decisions to take specific actions have been delegated to
administrative staff but in the courts we visited we found inconsistent
views amongst staff on what authority they had". Presumably
whatever authority they have, it is the same from court to court,
is it not?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) Absolutely.
188. Why do they not know that? Why are they
not aware of the authority they have?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) I imagine because in a particular
court, with a turnover of staff, the precise details of the delegation,
which are set out and which are enshrined in law, were not known
to some of those staff to whom the NAO talked.
189. Whose responsibility is it to ensure that
the courts and administrative staff in courts have a consistent
view of the authority that they hold? Who is responsible for that?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) It will be the responsibility
of either the magistrates' chief executive, the chairman of the
bench or of the justices themselves collectively. The position
is set out in statute. I do not want to take you through it. It
is there and it is clear and it is set out and it has been circulated
to every magistrates' courts committee. It is up to them to make
sure their staff are aware.
190. It has been circulated by whom?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) When the rules are promulgated
it will be circulated by my Department.
191. Do you think your Department has any responsibility
for ensuring that courts do understand these things? Presumably
that is why you issue guidance, is it not?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) We have a responsibility for
making sure that people know what the rules are, but it is the
responsibility of those on the ground to make sure that their
staff know about it.
192. I must say that I found this report very
depressing indeed. I have to say that I found your answers even
more depressing. When law and order has never been so high on
the agenda, it seems to me that your Department is apparently
very complacent about the whole situation. What would you say
(Sir Hayden Phillips) No; I would say precisely the
opposite. I would say that the actions we have taken in the last
couple of years indicate that this is a priority in a way that
it has not been before. New systems, new money, new approaches
and a real determination to give this a priority among the whole
of the magistrates' courts community which it has not been given
for two decades.
193. The report does not seem to indicate that,
does it? If you read the report you get a clear indication that
the persistent offender is frankly getting away with it.
(Sir Hayden Phillips) The report is agreed. It has
pointed to several weaknesses in the system which have persisted
for a long time.
194. That is what I mean about complacency.
It has been there for a long time and something should have been
done about it many years ago.
(Sir Hayden Phillips) What I am saying to you is that
far from being complacent about it, we have now taken action and
we are taking action and I hope and believe the situation will
improve. Indeed the NAO refer to a number of measures towards
the end which we are taking.
195. I think that your Department is very complacent.
I also think the courts are very complacent as well. If you look
for example at paragraph 2.38 on page 24, my view is that if a
court passes a punishment or a sentence on somebody, then they
have the obligation to see that sentence or punishment is carried
out. In paragraph 2.38 it says, "Some staff felt that enforcement
was accorded a lower priority than other court work and it was,
therefore, the first activity to get `squeezed' when there was
pressure elsewhere". What pressure elsewhere? What is more
important than ensuring that the punishment they have given is
carried out? What is more important than that?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) There is a range of activities
in the courts which are very important, work in court as well
as this work out of court. What I would say to you is that you
are absolutely right and that is why we have taken action
196. All afternoon you have said to every single
member, "I think you are absolutely right". So why has
something not been done about it? I read this report at the weekend.
If we are absolutely right, presumably you and your Department
have known this has been going on for decades. Why has it taken
the NAO to bring out a report now for you to keep saying "You
are absolutely right"? No questions have been answered. You
have not been able to give us statistics. If I had been in your
position this afternoon, it would have been obvious to me that
I would be asked for some of the statistics which have been asked
for, yet you sitting there cannot give them and your colleagues
behind have not moved and given you any information. It is quite
incredible. That is why I think you are complacent.
(Sir Hayden Phillips) No, we are not complacent; absolutely
not. When I say that is right, it is because it is an agreed report
between us and the NAO and if I said it was not right, then we
would not have had that agreement. What I am saying to you is
that we have taken two major steps to change the system in the
last 18 months. The first is to bring together all responsibilities
for enforcement, which were divided between the police and the
courts on the one hand. That has made an enormous difference.
It has taken a long time to achieve that and get agreement. Secondly,
we have increased the resources available through enforcement
by 20% beginning from this April. That gives the staff the time
and the numbers to put much more effort into this work, but if
you are saying to me, do I not wish this had been done sooner,
of course I say that and I am not trying to be complacent in saying
197. Those are all fine words again. What is
the point of a court imposing a fine, which is after all a punishment,
a deterrent so that offenders will not offend again, when they
do not have to take it seriously because they know it is not going
to be enforced. The hardened criminal knows that it is not going
to be enforced. You made an amazing statement earlier on and I
wrote it down. You said that the fines were not enforced because
they may have other priorities. That is basically what you said.
It is like saying that I am going to send you to prison but because
you are going to Majorca for a fortnight I will not bother because
that is a bigger priority. That is basically what you were saying.
If a fine is given to an offender that fine should be paid over
to the court. That is the priority.
(Sir Hayden Phillips) I was answering that in relation
to the state of mind which I was asked about of people who did
not pay. Of course I agree with you that we should pursue a system
in which we progressively improve in the collection of fines.
That is why we are trying to pursue the range of measures I have
outlined today. In the majority of cases, 63% and we plan to increase
it to 68% this year, fines are paid.
198. Let us move on slightly. One of the areas
the National Audit Office looked at was my area, Durham and Durham
seems to be quite good because the payment rate is 67%. That means
that 33% of people in Durham who are fined do not pay that fine.
It seems to me that for the 33% crime actually does pay.
(Sir Hayden Phillips) Of those 33% some will have
had their fines cancelled automatically.
199. No, I do not think so. Unless I am totally
wrong, and if I am I apologise, I think you are wrong. I think
that 67% do pay, 30% do not pay. If you look at the statistics
in Appendix 1, clearly those who write-off and cancel cannot be
included in the payment rate.
(Sir Hayden Phillips) No. It is wrong to add the numbers
up as though they were all the same thing. What I am saying is
that the amount which is cancelled is relevant to performance.
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