Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)|
17 OCTOBER 2006
Q60 Dr Whitehead: Do you think the
Department, as far as PSA targets are concerned, also has a duty
to defendants? One of your targets, of course, is to make sure
that a certain number of cases are brought to justice. Does that
include responsibility for defendants?
Alex Allan: We have a very obvious
responsibility to defendants in terms of providing Legal Aid,
which we do. Clearly, part of justice is to ensure that people
do get a fair trial and that is a very key part of how we operate.
Equally, at the same time, I think one of the changes that has
been brought about more recently has been an increased focus on
victims and some of the witnesses to particular crimes and trying
to make sure that they get the full support and that they are
not just treated as adjuncts to a process that is wholly between
the state and the defendant. I think there has been a change of
focus, but we still do spend very large sums on criminal Legal
Aid in terms of supporting defendants to make sure they do get
a fair trial.
Q61 Dr Whitehead: This is to do perhaps
with the emphasis on customers. You were mentioning earlier the
change in emphasis towards customers in the Department.
Alex Allan: The change in emphasis
towards customers has been, as I say, much more focused on saying
that we have not done enough to think about victims and witnesses,
for example. Across the criminal justice system we are now doing
a lot more to make sure that victims are given support from the
moment the crime is committed, through all the charging process
and then ultimately the court process, and we are trialling various
things like victims' advocates to enable victims to have a voice
in the court where they might not otherwise be able to do, in
murder trials, for example, and similarly, we are looking very
much within the civil justice system. For exampleI know
you have done an inquiry into thishow does it feel to people
who are using our courts? I think it should be seen really as
a shift away from the historic focus that the courts were there
to basically support judges and magistrates and the legal profession
to one that says we are part of a system that has much wider objectives.
Q62 Dr Whitehead: So are guilty defendants
Rod Clark: Our PSA target 2 does
explicitly talk about the need not to compromise fairness in the
way that it delivers justice, and we deliver confidence in the
justice system, and clearly, under the strap line, justice does
require delivery of a just system.
Q63 Dr Whitehead: Do you think the
Department might just about scrape into achieving its PSA target
on bringing offenders to justice in 2007-08?
Rod Clark: We are pretty confident.
Alex Allan: We are ahead of it
now. I think one of your questions was whether it is now too easy.
We do not think it is yet, but if we can exceed it, we will.
Q64 Dr Whitehead: Except you might
say that from a perception point of view, the challenge of making
sure that you do not slip back from a target you have already
exceeded this year as far as targets are concerned may not appear
particularly stretching from the point of view of the public.
Alex Allan: From our perspective,
as I think we explained in some of the details, a lot of the increase
has actually been in cases that do not come before the courts,
so there has been a lot of some of the fixed penalty notices,
some of those sorts of disposals. Actually, for us, maintaining
the volume of business in terms of number of cases through the
magistrates' courts, through the crown courts, at the same level
is quite a challenge and we are trying to do it with reducing
resources and trying to operate more efficiently, so I do not
think we feel we can relax now that we have exceeded the target.
We feel we are being quite demanding of HMCS in terms of the objectives.
Q65 Dr Whitehead: Of course, if you
look at it another way, and you look at the target in terms of
offences recorded by police or even those that have occurred according
to the British Crime Survey, the target that you are aiming for
in 2007-08 represents only 22% of offences reported to police
and 11% of offences recorded by the British Crime Survey, which
appears to be a very low rate.
Alex Allan: That was one of the
rationales behind the original programme, which I think was called
"Narrowing the justice gap", which exactly reflected
the point you have made, that the level of crimes that are brought
before the courts relative to the total level of reported crimes
is a small-ish percentage, and we want to get that percentage
up, and I think we are getting that percentage up because the
aggregate figures are falling, we are bringing more offences to
justice, so we are narrowing the gap, though I fully accept that
there is still a very big gap.
Q66 Dr Whitehead: Certainly you responded
to some thoughts on this matter in your written evidence but do
you not think that, perhaps in terms of a longer-term trajectory,
expressing a PSA target as a percentage of those figures rather
than a flat number would be a better way to proceed?
Alex Allan: Of course, if the
aggregate crime figures continue to fall, that would tend to make
it a softer target. I think we see some benefits in having a target
expressed in numbers, for two reasons. One is that, as you yourself
indicated, we have a long way to go to narrow the justice gap.
If total crime falls and the percentage goes up, that is good
news, I think. Secondly, it is operationally very much clearer
to have a target that actually does numbers of offences brought
to justice, because you can actually say to a local criminal justice
board "We expect that in your area 75,000 offences should
be brought to justice this year" and if you say it is a certain
percentage of the total number it is a much less clear target.
So although there is some logic in saying it should vary with
the amount of crime, I think actually this probably makes more
Q67 Dr Whitehead: One area where
one might question the progress is the question of PSA target
2 on ethnic minority confidence in the criminal justice system.
Do you think, for example, the recent anti-terror operations in
Forrest Gate and the large number of recent arrests concerning
security threats has had an impact on that confidence and hence
Alex Allan: I think it must be
quite likely that is the case and it is something on which I think
there is some survey evidence, which I will ask Rod Clark to comment
on in a moment. Clearly, this is one of those targets where all
sorts of things do influence people's conduct. One of the key
things for us is not saying "It's a hopeless task. We can't
influence what happens in the media therefore we don't try."
We have a lot of programmes very specifically aimed at improving
confidence, and they include the work we are doing on community
justice programmes, what we are doing on, for example, dedicated
drug courts, what we are doing on things like diversity in the
judiciary and magistracy to try and make sure that people recognise
a more diverse bench of magistrates, for example, looking at enforcement
so that people do actually have more confidence that if fines
are imposed, they are collected or community penalties are imposed
that really mean that somebody has to do something, and equally
the work we are doing, as I mentioned earlier, on victims and
witnesses. While I do accept that at one level some of this may
get swamped by the bigger trends, actually, I think we can do
a lot, and it is really important that we do. Rod Clark will be
able to say something about the survey evidence.
Rod Clark: Yes, the research evidence
we have on the attitudes of members of minority ethnic groups
is that if they do have a lack of confidence that they are going
to be treated fairly by the criminal justice system, that is very
largely influenced by the impressions they get from the media.
Very little of the impact is ascribed to actual first-hand contact
with the criminal justice systems themselves. Undoubtedly, the
portrayal in the media is an important issue.
Q68 Dr Whitehead: On target 4, which
is increasing the proportion of care cases completed within 40
weeks, your performance simply has deteriorated. What is the Department
doing about that and why do you think it has deteriorated?
Rod Clark: I think there are a
number of reasons. By far the biggest cause is simply the growth
in the number of cases that are coming through. There is something
like a 4.8% increase in the numbers of requests for guardians
to CAFCASS, which is suggestive of a continuing upward trend in
the number of cases going through. There are also some changes,
some legislative changes, which have arguably increased the time
it takes to handle some cases. The fact that care and adoption
proceedings now tend to run in parallel, so it is the slowest
ship in the convoy that then concludes the case, has meant some
slowdown. The key things that we are doing to tackle this were
brought out in the childcare proceedings review that came out
earlier in the year, with activity around the statutory guidance
and around a revised judicial protocol for next spring, concentrating
on trying to get early activity on these cases brought forward
so that in many cases fewer cases need to come through to the
courts in the first place but also so that when they do come through
they can be dealt with more expeditiously and more simply. There
is a lot of work going on in HMCS on performance management and
looking at performance variation. There are new courts coming
on stream, particularly in London in the Gee Street courts where
there are additional facilities being made available and more
county court space also being provided. We are also looking at
clarity in case management and other performance measures that
we can take. However, I think this is an example where the court
is, in a sense, the tip of the iceberg of a much bigger system
to do with looked after children, and it is a bit like the criminal
justice system; it is another area where we really do need to
get partners on board working with us to find the most effective
way of dealing with people in really very distressing and very
difficult circumstances. Harriet Harman chairs a committee that
brings together the DfES, the Welsh Assembly, CAFCASS, the judiciary,
the various players, in working through the improvement programme
that we have got, and that is backed up by family justice councils
which also provide a forum a bit like (although not the same as)
the local criminal justice boards, where some of these issues
can be addressed and tackled. The increase in the numbers, some
of which I suspect is due to an increased understanding of the
sort of level of harm and risk for children in our communities,
is one of the major factors that we are going to have to tackle
in the years ahead.
Alex Allan: Of course, the Committee
carried out a study in the family courts area and I think we are
due to submit the Government's response before the end of the
month on that.
Q69 Dr Whitehead: Two further brief thoughts,
firstly the question of target 5 where at least on part of the
target you simply do not have the information available to assess
whether you have reached the target or not; why has that taken
so long to correct?
Rod Clark: I think measure 1 under
target 5 is a really good example of some of the problems to do
with target setting. It is a target which tries to capture the
outcome, as it were, for society that we are trying to achieve,
which is in the world out there and the problems that people have,
how many of those problems do we actually manage to address with
effective advice. Because it is the outcome impact on the end
customer, it is not something that can simply be read off our
own operational systems. The fact that we have answered the phone
however many times and given out advice does not necessarily translate
to that being advice which addresses people's problems, so we
are dependent on having a survey measure to measure it. That means
that you are into samples collected over time and it takes time
to build up a large enough sample to give you a statistically
meaningful measure. We will have our first statistically worthwhile
sighted shot on the numbers early in the new year, but even that
of course involves statistical error given the fact that it is
a sample measure.
Q70 Dr Whitehead: Bearing in mind
our earlier discussion on the role of the Treasury in looking
at PSAs in terms of the effective financing of a department, would
it not be a good idea at the next Comprehensive Spending Review
to ensure that the Department, in taking on board PSAs, has got
systems of measurement and baselines in place before the PSAs
even come into being?
Alex Allan: Yes absolutely, and
that is one of the things when we are negotiating there
is then, as I think you know, a whole series of technical notes
which do explain how they are going to be measured. This target
does have a measure attached to it and then the National Audit
Office does its periodic investigation and makes some comments
on the individual PSAs and how they are organised. However, I
agree completely, the more easily targets can be measured then
the more meaningful they are.
Rod Clark: And the more we can
underpin them by measures that sit underneath and are easier to
quantify and to document.
Q71 Dr Whitehead: Just a minor thought
on PSA target 5, you note in your written evidence that you are
trying to increase opportunities for people who have got lower
value disputes to settle earlier the problems that they have and
I think you mentioned the in-house Small Claims Mediation Service
which is being piloted in Manchester. Do you have any further
information or thoughts about that service? Is there a timetable
or are there proposals for rolling it out further across the country?
Alex Allan: Indeed. The service
in Manchester has proved very successful. If anything, one of
the problems has been that the number of claims that are put through
to the mediator has actually been relatively limited and his capacity
is bigger than that, and so we are expanding the area that he
will take cases from. The figures are extremely encouraging because
during the pilot, 86% of the claims that were referred to it were
settled on the day and with very high satisfaction levels. What
is interesting also is that none of them required any subsequent
follow-up enforcement action, whereas typically we have a number
that even if they are settled still require action, so that was
very encouraging. We are looking at rolling it out to another
nine areas. We tried a number of different pilots, as you know.
This was much the most successful and the one that we feel rolling
it out will both provide a better service and indeed reduce demand
on the county courts.
Q72 Dr Whitehead: Are the areas known?
Alex Allan: We are trying to have
a geographical spread and we are trying to get as well as the
wider Manchester one, two in the North East, two in the South
East, one in London, two in the South West, one in the Midlands,
and one more not yet identified.
Q73 Dr Whitehead: Central south of
the country I would have thought would be very appropriate. I
am sorry, that is an aside.
Alex Allan: I am not sure exactly
but that is that is what I was told
Chairman: Two in the North East sounds
promising! Mrs James?
Q74 Mrs James: I would like to take
you back to the Comprehensive Spending Review; you have mentioned
it once or twice. Can you tell us what point you are at in your
negotiations with the Treasury as part of the continuing review?
Alex Allan: We are in the middle
of negotiations and perhaps I could ask Barbara Moorhouse, who
is in the thick of those negotiations, to explain a little bit
about where we are in the process.
Barbara Moorhouse: It has a "back
to the future" feel in terms of the CSR. Where we are at
the moment is the Treasury obviously sets out precisely how they
want departments to comply with their requirements for going into
the Comprehensive Spending Review. They are requiring all departments
to write to them at this current stage and there is a lot of preparatory
work which I will not bore you with, essentially asking for information
about our value for money reviews, our management strategy, in
other words how we are looking after our estates, and what our
proposals are around things like revenue and strategic objectives,
so they are asking us to set out, as one would expect, a comprehensive
view of where the Department wants to go and the amounts of money
that it will cost to carry out our various core operations. We
are just in the process of finalising our response to that timetable.
There will be a meeting relatively soon over the next few weeks
between the Chief Secretary of the Treasury and our Secretary
of State to discuss the contents of that letter. Thereafter we
expect to be continuing to work with the Treasury on the current
timetable in order to refine work with officials within the Treasury
for them to understand the detailed financial information that
we have put together. Then all of that culminates in us putting
a final proposition to the Treasury in January of next year.
Q75 Mrs James: So have you any other
key priorities? You talked about the estates, the value for money;
anything within your overall expansion or perhaps?
Barbara Moorhouse: From our point
of view there are two absolutely overriding aspects. From a financial
point of view clearly there are a number of strategic objectives
and what is critical for us is that those can be appropriately
funded. We all understand the context of public spending at the
current time and we cannot be blind to that, however much we might
wish to be so. The key issues for us are to make sure that we
have taken a careful and thoughtful approach to the objectives
that the Department has in terms of its ministerial and political
agenda and the key priorities for us, the operational costs that
we need to meet for running things like the courts. Legal aid
is clearly a critical cost for us and the Carter proposals and
the costing of those have been a key building block for our Comprehensive
Spending Review. So drawing all of those priorities together,
the key issues for us are to make sure that the Treasury understands
the basis of those figures and the information and the money that
we need to run the Department. Over on top of that if there is
one absolutely central thing for the Department in the Comprehensive
Spending Review, it is to ensure that we capitalise on work that
has already been done so that we can get some modernisation funding
into the Department. Clearly the Department has a certain legacy
from the time that it was the Lord Chancellor's Department. We
have carried out two very significant mergers of a number of organisations
from the Courts Service, specifically the magistrates and then
in the tribunals. What is critical to us now is that we can capitalise
on a lot of the change work that is now going on and get the required
investment in people, systems, pay and grading, the estates, and
a number of other aspects of change in order for us to develop
the efficient operation of the courts, the tribunals, and indeed
every other part of our business to support the delivery of both
our core constitutional and indeed our practical day-to-day support
Q76 Mrs James: Are you confident
that you will get the level of support that you require?
Barbara Moorhouse: I do not think
any Director General of Finance will be saying that they can be
confident in their Treasury negotiations. We have put a great
deal of thought and care into the proposition that we will put
to the Treasury. We have tried to make sure that we are responding
constructively to their request for us to demonstrate value for
money, and to make sure that our spending plans are well-founded,
and to ensure that we are being reasonably responsive to the realities
of the public spending situation, whilst not short changing the
important operational duties that we have in terms of running
the courts and providing legal aid and supporting a number of
vulnerable constituencies. We believe that we are broadly in the
process of setting that picture right. We are working closely
with the Treasury but, no, I think confidence might be taking
it too far!
Alex Allan: A key plank was of
course the Carter review of legal aid which sets out a programme
going forward through the Comprehensive Spending Review years
and does map out a process for considerable improvements in efficiency,
in particular the efficiency with which the Legal Services Commission
operates and providing the right sorts of processes that support
what we are trying to do more generally, particularly in the criminal
Q77 Mrs James: You will soon be setting
new PSA targets as part of the CSR. What changes do you want to
see from your current PSAs?
Alex Allan: It is still fairly
early in that process because, by and large, the way the Treasury
operatesand Barbara will come in and correct me on this
if I have got this wrongis that the first discussion is
all about what savings can you make and how can you improve your
efficiency and then the processes of examining what the right
PSA regime is, continuing in parallel but perhaps not quite as
advanced as that. We are running a number of workshops within
the Department with the Treasury and with other stakeholders,
looking at what the right sorts of targets might be and looking
indeed at the areas that Dr Whitehead pointed out where we do
not have PSA targets at the moment, as to whether there are PSA
targets that we should be proposing and looking for in those areas
as well. I do not know if Rod Clark wants to say something about
Rod Clark: We have also been working
with the Office for Criminal Justice Reform, which has been leading
the work really to look at the joint PSAs around the criminal
justice system. I think the impression that I am getting about
where Treasury thinking is going is that they do not want to change
the idea that this is a set of measures for the Government as
a whole to set out some key priorities. They do not want to turn
PSAs into individual performance measures department-by-department,
although they will be very keen to understand exactly the underpinnings
in terms of the performance measures that then set about delivering
those PSAs. So what we need to do is to make sure that we understand
the relationship between the money, the operational performance
measures, and the delivery of the outcomes in areas which may
be cross government (like the criminal justice targets) early
enough to inform the setting of those targets.
Q78 Mrs James: I assume that you
will be providing some sort of draft proposals for negotiations?
Alex Allan: It is a continuing,
iterative process whereby ideas are put forward, then gradually
refined, so I do not think there is a formal stage where we submit
draft PSA targets in that sense but, yes, there is lots of debate.
Q79 Mrs James: Do you think you would
allow the Committee to see those targets in draft form and allow
us time to comment on them before they are finalised?
Alex Allan: As I say, I do not
think there is necessarily a stage where we have a draft set of
PSA targets, but I am very happy that we should both engage with
the Committee and certainly get your views on what sorts of targets
would be appropriate. I think that is entirely appropriate. That
is part of the process.
Chairman: Maybe at a stage which seems
to you to be appropriate you could drop us a note saying how things
are developing and we might have some comments to make?
1 Note by witness: Subsequently, a letter was
sent to the Chairman, Rt Hon Alan Beith, from the Minister of
State, Rt Hon Harriet Harman MP, 23 October, to indicate that
the publication of this response would need to be delayed until