Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 200 - 219)



  200. 67% pay, 33% do not pay.
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) We are looking to improve that figure progressively year on year and I am not pretending to you that is a good situation.

  201. It is a shocking situation. It is a shocking situation and that is why we have a position now where in many cases people are frightened to go out on the streets at night because they know they may get mugged and they know very well that if the person is caught they go to court, get smacked on the bottom and sent away and your Department is not doing enough to ensure that the punishments fit the crime. Let us have a look at where you have taken action or supposedly taken action. Page 17, paragraph 2.14. Apparently there were some pilot schemes in Norfolk and Greater Manchester where people who had not paid their fines were given community punishment orders, curfew orders and driving disqualification. How many were actually administered? For example in Norfolk and Greater Manchester how many community punishment orders were there and how many curfew orders were given and how many people were disqualified for driving?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) I do not know immediately what those numbers were.

  202. If I were in your position and coming to this Committee I would have thought that would have been one of the most obvious questions to be asked to see whether it had been successful. Do your colleagues not know? How many people had curfew orders put on them?

  Chairman: Can anybody help from behind you with these answers?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) No, we will have to send you that information.[17]

  203. You do not know. I cannot follow my line of questioning if that is the case. I assumed that you would be able to tell me whether it had been successful or not and why other magistrates' courts had not adopted these solutions. I am absolutely staggered. I would have thought you would have known exactly whether these particular punishments, which were put in because people were not paying fines, had been successful or not and whether you should use them elsewhere or not.
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) The NAO report, which we agreed, accurately summarises what the conclusions were. These things cannot be rolled out nationally without the implementation of national legislation and that is why we are waiting for the opportunity of the implementation of the Crime (Sentences) Act to be able to roll out these options across the country.

  204. I cannot follow my line of questioning because you do not have the figures. It is pointless going on if you do not know what the figures are. This report also substantiates the view I have had for a long time now, that magistrates' courts are ineffective anyway and that we should have some other system. Is it the fact that the magistrates themselves are not prepared to hand out the punishments and follow them through or is it lack of guidance from your Department? Who is to blame?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) The magistrates' courts deal with 96% of all criminal business.

  205. Are you happy with the standard of magistrates? It is your Department which appoints them, is it not?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) No, they are appointed by the Lord Chancellor. If you are talking here of lay magistrates, there are 30,000 of them. We try to make sure that they all meet the criteria, go through the interviews and so on.

  206. I thought you were the Lord Chancellor's Department.
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) Yes, we are. I said the Lord Chancellor appoints all the magistrates.

  207. When I asked whether your Department appoints them you said the Lord Chancellor appoints them.
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) There is a difference.

  208. Are you satisfied with the standard of magistrates.
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) Yes; it is very good.

  209. Are you satisfied with the standard of the courts?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) It is an amazing example of voluntary service.

  210. Are you satisfied with the way the courts work?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) We are never satisfied. We have indicated in the hearing this afternoon that we have a whole range of improvements to make in the way the administration is run.

  211. Do you have a league table of the performance of courts?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) We have a whole series of information about the different performance of courts in different areas. We have them as shown in this report and in further information I sent to the Committee the other day about fine enforcement. We have similar information in league tables about delays and that is for the first time. This information has not generally been available to the Department.

  212. How accountable are the courts?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) They are accountable locally to magistrates' courts committees. We are responsible for funding them and for giving guidance on the appointment of magistrates. Do not please think that we are complacent about this, neither about the efficiency of the courts nor about the range of penalties at our disposal nor about our determination to improve it.

  213. Have you ever been in a magistrates' court?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) Yes.

  214. Recently?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) About a year ago.

  215. What did you think?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) I thought they did an amazing job with people coming forward.

  216. Did you? I sat in a magistrates' court and watched what was going on and I was never so appalled in my life. There were people sitting at the back, shouting and swearing at the magistrates, cursing and nothing was done about it. There was absolutely no respect at all for the magistrates who were in the court. It was just an absolute shambles and they are supposed to be the custodians of law and order. For example paragraph 2.10 on page 17 says that the court officers did not tell the magistrates who had not paid their fines and who had paid their fines. I find that amazing. You do not need a computer to do that. How did they do it without computers? We have only had computers over the last 20 years. The computer gets the blame. How can it be condoned that the courts cannot tell the magistrates that Mr X who is coming in front of them has been fined four times in the last six months and has not paid his fine once.
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) I do not condone it, nor do you condone it. The reality is that it happens in some of these cases.

  217. The court is therefore complacent and inefficient.
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) What we are trying to do is to make sure people do not have the opportunity to say they did not have time to collect that information, they did not have time to put that information together. We are trying to give people the resources so that sort of thing does not happen again.

  218. The reports tell us that 2,000 people were sent to prison two years ago whereas 22,000 were sent to prison ten years ago for not paying their fines. So we have a situation where, if you do not pay your fine you do not now get sent to prison for defaulting. There is another amazing statistic as well. Not only are we not sending people to prison for not paying their fines, if you look at figure four on page 11, the number of fines being given now has gone down from 80% in 1987 to 70% in 1999. We are not sending people to prison, we are not fining them. What are we doing if they commit an offence?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) They will be receiving a range of other community penalties of one sort or another.

  219. Have you ever visited a community service programme?
  (Sir Hayden Phillips) No, I have not.

  Mr Steinberg: May I suggest you do? I visited one and if that is punishment, then I will eat hay with a cuddy, as they say in Durham—eat hay with a donkey.

17   Ev 32 Back

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