The work of the Office for Criminal Justice Reform - Justice Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)


3 MARCH 2009

  Q1 Chairman: Mr Slater, Ms Lee, welcome. Mr Slater, you are about to move on. Where are you going to?

Jonathan Slater: I am joining the Board of the Ministry of Justice.

  Chairman: We may well see you again. Good wishes for your future and to your successor, of course, when she comes along. Mr Michael.

  Q2  Alun Michael: The governance for Criminal Justice System Reform seems rather unwieldy given the size of the membership of the National Criminal Justice Board. Could you tell us something about how the Board operates in practice?

  Jonathan Slater: Certainly. The Board meets on a monthly basis typically. It brings together, as you say, those with the responsibility for each of the constituent parts of the criminal justice system. It is a complex system, of course, with over 400,000 staff in it, and so, as a consequence, you are right to say there is a significant membership, but our role in OCJR is to work with each of those constituent parts to make sure there is one joined up message to the front line of that system about what it is seeking, and so the National Criminal Justice Board provides us with an ideal opportunity to make sure that, if there are differences of emphasis, there is an opportunity for those to be debated. The way that we organise meetings is we identify two, three, four key issues. Typically we would invite an LCJB Chair to come along to give a presentation about a piece of work that they are doing to inform members of the Board about work locally and we invite them to raise issues on which they would find it helpful for us to be more joined up nationally or where they seek further policy work or guidance to be developed, and that leads into a debate across the board and we are tasked to take work away accordingly. That is the typical nature of discussion that we have at the Board.

  Q3  Alun Michael: You say that the purpose is to give a clear message to the front line. I have to say that the general impression is that it is the front lines and that the front lines may not be all pointing in the same direction, sometimes at each other even, if that is not to be too cynical. If you were to summarise what the clear message to the front line is on what you are doing, what the war is about, how would you summarise it?

  Jonathan Slater: The key challenge that OCJR works with the front line, or front lines as you put it, is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system.

  Q4  Alun Michael: For what purpose?

  Jonathan Slater: We would define success as increasing the rate of offences, particularly serious crime, brought to justice, and so one would be looking for both a reduction in crime and, for that crime that is carried out, increasing amounts of it brought to justice for the benefit of the public at large. We would want that done in such a way as to build public confidence and we would want that done in such a way as the victims of crime, in particular, the witnesses of crimes together were more satisfied with the way the system was treating them, and we seek to measure that in quite concrete ways so that you get beyond the words into concrete evidence of success or otherwise.

  Q5  Alun Michael: That is quite a complex paragraph, if I may say so, and it rather underlines the fact that I think there is a lack of clarity. There is nothing in legislation, is there, that says the purpose of the criminal justice system is to protect the public and reduce crime, for instance?

  Jonathan Slater: There is a series of statutory objectives of sentencing of which protecting the public is one. I would not deny that the task facing people in the criminal justice system is complex, but I think myself the way that we seek to describe the challenge set—reducing crime, bringing more offenders to justice in a way that builds confidence and responds to victims needs—is, all be it more complicated than it might be, a fairly succinct definition of what it is reasonable for government to seek from the system.

  Q6  Alun Michael: Does not the size of the National Criminal Justice Board illustrate the multi-faceted nature and the over complexity of the way in which the criminal justice system is run?

  Jonathan Slater: It certainly demonstrates that it is a complex system and provides interesting work for us to seek to help those constituent elements join up their effectiveness. One key plank of our work is to simplify processes across the different parts of the system in ways that you are implying, so the work that we have done with colleagues across the system on CJSSS is a good example of efforts to make the engagement between the CPS, courts, police, probation, defence solicitors work more smoothly so that there are fewer adjournments, more cases brought to trial, effectively less discontinuance, and I think there is a reasonable track record of success but there is much more that we can do in the years ahead.

  Q7  Alun Michael: That is basically about improving the mechanisms rather than being better focused on the overall purpose, is it not?

  Jonathan Slater: That is to do with improving the efficiency of the system, only one element, yes, and you are right that we look to the parts of the criminal justice system to demonstrate how they can improve effectiveness, to build confidence and to improve satisfaction and to do so in a joined up way. So, building on your point, we would look to witness care units, for example, to provide a simple way of witnesses giving information about their trial at different stages in the process, no matter which criminal justice agency happens to be in charge at that moment in time.

  Q8  Alun Michael: The Office for Criminal Justice Reform are used to government departments using words in different ways, so you have agencies that are not actually agencies and you have offices that are not really offices. What are you really?

  Jonathan Slater: We are civil servants. Most civil servants work for one secretary of state. I get the honour of working for the Justice Secretary, the Home Secretary and the Attorney General; so whereas typically a civil servant might put up a submission to one minister, my submissions go to three, because the criminal justice system, as you know, is overseen by three government departments, and so, if we are seeking a common line, we need three ministers to say so. That is the only difference between us and other civil servants.

  Q9  Alun Michael: And the rest of your team?

  Jonathan Slater: That is true of the Office for Criminal Justice Reform as a whole. So whether it is Catherine or any of my team putting up submissions to ministers, they do so trilaterally.

  Q10  Alun Michael: Does that mean that the members of the team are seconded from each of those three departments and elsewhere?

  Jonathan Slater: Certainly. We are hosted by one of three departments: currently by the Ministry of Justice, previously by the Home Office. Somebody has to pay the bills, deal with the HR and finance, and so on, and that is what the Ministry of Justice does for us. In order to be as effective as possible, we provide a combination of civil servants, people on secondment from the police, as you say, from the CPS and from others so that we have got the right sort of mix of policy and operational skills.

  Q11  Alun Michael: Could you explain why you have not mentioned the Criminal Justice Council in your memorandum, what the responsibilities are of that council and how it relates to the Board?

  Jonathan Slater: The Council is a consultative forum that feeds the results of its deliberations into the National Criminal Justice Board. As to why we did not provide information on that in our briefing, you make a judgment about it.

  Q12  Chairman: Does it not impinge on your consciousness very heavily?

  Jonathan Slater: I have attended a couple of meetings of the Council in the year that I have been Chief Executive of OCJR to present various pieces of work that we were doing and seek their views that would get fed up to the Board as a whole.

  Q13  Chairman: How many people normally attend your board meetings?

  Jonathan Slater: The National Criminal Justice Board?

  Q14  Chairman: Roughly?

  Jonathan Slater: About 25.

  Q15  Chairman: Is that about two-thirds of the total membership?

  Jonathan Slater: Yes.

  Catherine Lee: There is always a representative. If the person in question, say a minister, cannot attend, they would always send a junior minister. If the head of the Prison Service could not attend, they would always send a rep, so the attendance is full.

  Q16  Chairman: A large table is required!

  Catherine Lee: Very.

  Q17  Mr Tyrie: Could you remind the committee what your budget is for this financial year: how much it is?

  Jonathan Slater: Yes, £115 million near cash, 15 million depreciation.

  Q18  Mr Tyrie: I have a figure for your budget of £167 million. Where does that figure come from?

  Jonathan Slater: Apologies. In addition to the resources, near cash and non cash, I referred to there is a capital budget of just over 30 million, together making the figure that you describe.

  Q19  Mr Tyrie: £167 million. Could you tell us what the comparable figure was for 2003/2004, very roughly? I have a figure here but, again, it may be incorrect, or it may be an apples and pears issue. I have a figure of £64 million.

  Jonathan Slater: I think it is bound to be apples and pears, in the sense that for the period you are describing there was a broader set of responsibilities for OCJR in spending a £1.7 billion IT budget over five years. We are spending much less now than then, so I think it must be apples and pears, but perhaps it would be possible for me just to look at the figures and come back to you.

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