Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-79)|
20 MARCH 2007
Q60 Keith Vaz: Indeed.
Baroness Prashar: Also, steps
were taken immediately and everything has been put in place, but
I really do think it would be a great pity to continue to labour
it and exaggerate it. Of course we regret that the mistake happened
but I think it would be a pity if people used that to damage the
JAC. If I may say so, it is not in our, your or the country's
interests to do that because the JAC has a very important role
to play. Our credibility is very important because if we have
credibility then the appointments we make will have credibility.
Therefore, the reputation of the JAC is extremely important.
Q61 Keith Vaz: Baroness Prashar,
of course it is; that is why you are sitting before us, and if
it happens again the Committee will have you back because we do
think that it is very strange and disappointing that on your very
first set of appointments a properly funded organisation should
have these problems. You describe them as human errors. You describe
them as management failures. Has there been any disciplinary action
taken as a result of what has happened? Who takes responsibility
Baroness Prashar: I will ask my
Chief Executive to answer that.
Clare Pelham: I take responsibility
for it. I am the Chief Executive of the organisation. I want to
speak with some sensitivity because the member of staff concerned
is currently on sick leave and so has not had the
Q62 Chairman: I am sorry, but that
is the story that is usually told in all comparable circumstances.
Clare Pelham: I understand exactly
what you are saying but I am sure that you also understand how
difficult it is to be on sick leave and to hear yourself discussed.
Q63 Keith Vaz: We do not know who
that person is, of course, nor do we want to know who the person
is. We hold you responsible, as you have taken responsibility,
and the Chairman of the Commission. The fact is that the people
who really feel let down are the candidates, some of whom will
not get appointed because they are not going to be chosen, who
will feel that there is something wrong with the whole system.
You have written to every one of the candidates and apologised
for what has happened. Have there been any further complaints
from any candidates about this? Have any candidates suggested
that the whole sift should happen again?
Baroness Prashar: No.
Q64 Keith Vaz: Not a single candidate
has written to you?
Baroness Prashar: No. We have
had several letters asking us for further explanation, but nobody
has written to complain, and I think it would be a pity in a way,
because when we found out there was a mistake people who were
not sifted in were looked at again and I thought that was the
fairest thing to do. We can tell you that everybody was treated
fairly. I would like Mr Justice Goldring to say something about
that because it was he who was extremely helpful in making sure
that this competition ran smoothly.
Mr Justice Goldring: I think you
probably know what exactly happened. Once we appreciated that
the references had not been taken into account we looked again
at everybody who had not been selected for interview. Those who
had been selected for interview went on to interview and so they
were not prejudiced. Those who had not been selected for interview
were looked at afresh, their references were taken into account
and a number of other people, I think it was 59 in all, were selected
for interview and they have now all been interviewed.
Q65 Keith Vaz: But, Sir John, because
you have other things to do, you are sitting in court, you do
not realise that this is exactly the point we put to the Lord
Chancellor when he came before us about a year ago to tell us
exactly the same thing had happened in the appointment of the
immigration judges to York. The sift had gone wrong, the references
had not been looked at, and what worries me is that you are relying
on the same members of staff who cocked it up at the Lord Chancellor's
Department. That is why I keep going back to the fact that if
you are independent you should have your own staff because, as
you yourself say in the statement that you issued in February
of this year in response to the Chairman's letter to you, you
thought the previous system of selection was both cumbersome and
lengthy. You thought you would improve on the system but how can
you improve on the system when you have the very same people who
administered the previous system operating in your new independent
body? Is it not the case that the same mistakes are going to be
Clare Pelham: Perhaps I can add
a word of explanation. The Chairman alluded earlier to the fact
that some competitions were being run by the JAC under the old
DCA processes while they were developing their own selection processes
and you have been sent a copy of the letter which explains those
new processes. One key feature of the new processes is that instead
of a paper sift for appointments below the most senior levels
and except for very small competitions there will now be a qualifying
test rather than the huge amount of paperwork which has previously
been a feature of the DCA processes.
Q66 Keith Vaz: But references are
obviously going to play a very important part and will continue
to play a part in this. Sir John will know that references from
senior members of the judiciary carry weight when people make
applications. Could somebody tell me about the importance of references
in this whole process?
Baroness Prashar: Let me answer
that question. As Ms Pelham has said, in competitions, where there
will be a qualifying test, references will be sought after people
have passed the qualifying test. In competitions, where there
will be no qualifying test, we will seek references. Those will
be considered alongside people's CVs and their self-assessment.
Of course, we need all the information we can get in terms of
determining who goes forward, but let me clarify that under the
new processes we have made the process of reference-seeking much
more open. We now ask candidates to provide names for their referees
and we have what we call Commission-nominated referees and the
candidates are fully aware of who they are likely to be.
Q67 Keith Vaz: Sorry; can you repeat
that? Commission-nominated referees? What do they do? Is this
a new development?
Baroness Prashar: It is a new
development. It is making the process of reference-seeking much
more open and clear. What we do is ask candidates to identify,
like in any other job, who are the referees that they would like
us to approach. Then we have clearly stated in the information
given to the candidate that the Commission will be seeking references
when we have got Commission-nominated referees.
Q68 Keith Vaz: And who chooses who
becomes a Commission-nominated referee? I am sorry; I have never
heard of this before.
Baroness Prashar: This is a new
thing and it is something that we do.
Q69 Keith Vaz: Okay, so who are these
Baroness Prashar: These could
be, if you are a solicitor, your managing partner, or if they
happen to be an academicin other words line managers who
can give you some information.
Q70 Keith Vaz: They know the candidate?
Baroness Prashar: Absolutely,
and the candidates are fully aware of who the Commission-nominated
candidates are. In that sense we have made the process of reference-seeking
much more open and clear. That information is obviously used and,
after you have interviewed the candidates, the CV, the track record,
the references and the assessment made at interview, all the information
goes into making a judgment on which candidates meet the criteria
that we have developed to assess merit.
Q71 Mr Tyrie: It has been a very
helpful exchange and I think that your memorandum was very frank,
making clear that there has been a mistake, and it is really valuable,
when this happens, that somebody says, "Yes, there has been
a mistake", so thank you for doing that. You say the guide
was wrong to say that the sift was based solely on the candidate's
self-assessments. You have also said you have learned the lessons
of this. Have you established why the guide was written in that
way? I know that someone is now on sick leave but presumably the
cause of this does not lie just with one person.
Clare Pelham: That is one of our
lessons learned, that in this case the responsibility did lie
with one person. They were asked to organise the competition in
a way that made it clear that references would be considered at
sift, and mistakes were allowed to be put into the guide which
went out to applicants, and at the same time the team supporting
the competition went about seeking the references in line with
the original intention although the guide to applicants was faulty.
Q72 Mr Tyrie: There was no internal
system of checking this guide before it went out, so there is
some serious administrative error inside the Department at the
moment, or there has been? Is that right?
Clare Pelham: It has always been
the responsibility of the selection exercise managers to quality
assure their own team's work and now we have put in place, as
we said in our memorandum, that the director responsible will
always give authority for any material to be put into the public
Q73 Mr Tyrie: I think that is very
helpful and clearly a step forward in the management improvements
that I think are going to be absolutely essential, judging by
the impression that we have as a Committee. As far as we can tell
pretty much the same people who were doing this before are still
doing this in your organisation at the moment and clearly there
is a need for a shake-up. Do you think that, given all the difficulties
you have had and given the fact that you have now put in place
a new approach for dealing with referees, it might be a good idea
just to publish your draft proposals for the new guide now as
a draft and say, "This is the guide we are proposing to publish.
Baroness Prashar: This information
is available. Our new processes are on the website and, when the
competition begins, along with the application form a clear guidance
and information pack goes to the candidates.
Q74 Mr Tyrie: I am just talking about
this new referee system, whether you should put that out and give
the opportunity to those who will be affected by it to comment
on it now, before the process is working, for the next round.
Baroness Prashar: All the key
interested parties were given the information before we implemented
the changes at the beginning of November, so people were made
aware of this and we have not had any negative comments in response
Q75 Mr Tyrie: People have had an
opportunity to make negative comments, and I have no reason to
suppose that is also flawed, but seeing that you have already
had one problem it might be a good idea to try and make sure you
do not have another unforeseen one. Could I just ask Mr Justice
Goldring, when you said there was no need to deal with those who
had gone forward for interview in this process, were people judged
on a points system on the basis of their self-assessments?
Mr Justice Goldring: Yes.
Q76 Mr Tyrie: And presumably the
points system creates gradations and those gradations then go
forward to the interviewers?
Mr Justice Goldring: There is
a points system on the transitional provisions. We are moving
away from this points system. That is what obtained.
Q77 Mr Tyrie: I am just on the question
of the pre-existing system.
Mr Justice Goldring: The answer
Q78 Mr Tyrie: So some people may
have found themselves with a lower points score at interview stage,
even though they got an interview, than they might have had if
they had been able to have a proper referee system?
Mr Justice Goldring: They might
have had fewer points had the references been taken into account.
That is the way one can look at it.
Q79 Mr Tyrie: That is what I have
just tried to say, but you have put it much better because you
are very used to summarising things in your professional life.
Therefore, there is an injustice left in the system in that these
people, although they got into the interview system, got into
it with a lower points score than they would otherwise have expected?
Mr Justice Goldring: Assuming
that the interviewing process works properly people will be selected
solely on merit. What may be the consequence is that more people
are interviewed than otherwise would have been the case.