Examination of Witness (Questions 260
MONDAY 24 JUNE 2002
260. My suggestion is in terms of a guidance
note to magistrates. Could you do that?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) We will certainly send a guidance
note, but my own experience of this whole area is that the important
thing is to be able to talk to people directly. Guidance notes
upon guidance notes will not be acted upon if people feel that
they do not really have ownership of a particular way of solving
the problem. I should like to do it through conferences and seminars
as well as through paper messages, but we can certainly do that.
261. In your view, when would you predict we
would have a situation in the magistrates' courts where victims
are confident that the penalties imposed on their offenders were
delivered and also that offenders were confident that they could
not get away with it 90% of the time? When do you think that day
(Sir Hayden Phillips) It would be very hazardous to
give you a date. What we want to do is progressively push up the
rate at which fines are seen to be effective. As far as victims
and witnesses are concernedand this goes beyond fineswe
want to try to put in place arrangements both for security and
looking after them which make them feel that it is not dangerous
to turn up and that they are comfortable in turning upa
whole range of victim and witness support schemes are relevant
hereover time, for people to begin to see that it is more
and more difficult to get away with not paying the penalty.
262. What do you think about the practical possibilities
of the suggestions that people should have their housing benefit
or child benefit withdrawn if they offend?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) I think that is a pretty big
area for me to stray into. We can at the moment have an opportunity
for an attachment of benefits as a way of dealing with fines,
but there are very strict rules about the amount you can take.
It would be a bit hazardous for me to give an opinion on that
difficult political issue.
Geraint Davies: Obviously I guess you
could not do it to people who are poor.
263. A couple of questions from colleagues.
From Mr Rendel, page 19, paragraph 2.22. We are told there that
research work was due to report in early 2002. Now you have told
us this afternoon that it will be later this year. Can you explain
why this delay is happening?
(Sir Hayden Phillips) I am told it is next month.
I can give the Committee a very short note of the key points on
that, if Mr Rendel would like that. It will be with you next month.
264. We have had some very interesting questions
which started off with Mr Alan Williams which were based on paragraph
25 of the NAO brief to us. We are told there that in May 2002
the Lord Chancellor's Department announced that it was not proceeding
with that part of the contract which would provide
the software for court business and that it intends
to select an alternative supplier to provide an application to
cover the next few years. We should like to know, though we appreciate
you probably cannot answer this this afternoon, whether this was
based on an announcement, on a press release from the Lord Chancellor's
Department. Where did this information come from? May I just say
that I am sure I speak for the Committee when I say that we are
very concerned about this contract and we should like to have
a further report from you on it. There do seem to be some question
marks hanging over this particular PFI deal. Do you want to make
a brief comment?
(Sir John Bourn) Simply to say that I
shall be glad to give the Committee a report on it. It is clearly
a contract which has a number of strange features. The most helpful
way I can respond to the Committee's interest is to let you have
a report on it.
265. Thank you very much. I am very grateful
to Mr Williams and other colleagues who have highlighted that
part of this report. Sir Hayden, may I thank you for coming to
appear before us this afternoon. You will have gathered that we
do feel strongly about this. I am looking now at the National
Audit Office when I say that when the report comes to us, I am
sure I speak again for members of the Committee when I say, I
hope it will be a very strong report which will point to what
one could almost say is a chaotic situation. My colleague, Mr
Frank Field, put it quite well when he said, and it was almost
no exaggeration, that paying fines has almost become voluntary.
Clearly this is having a severe impact on people's freedom under
the law in this country. We are not satisfied with the replies
we have had this afternoon. We are very disturbed by what is written
in the report and agreed between your office, Sir John, and the
Lord Chancellor's Department. We look for a very hard-hitting
(Sir John Bourn) Yes, Chairman.
Chairman: Thank you, Sir John, and thank
you Sir Hayden. Order, order.
22 Ev 32 Back