Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40-59)|
3 MARCH 2009
Q40 Alun Michael: Your role, as I
understood it from your earlier remarks, has as one of its key
objectives to get alignment so the different bits of the system
are working together. That is clearly quite challenging. What
are you doing about that?
Jonathan Slater: It is challenging.
Apologies if this is disappointing, but I am just saying that
we are in the middle of reviewing what arrangements we can put
in place to improve the status quo at the moment, rather than
me reporting back to you on the outcome of that. I would not expect,
as I say, this to lead to significant transfers of resources from
one department to another. What I would expect it to lead to is
a reprioritisation of activity in accordance with some new demand
on the system, which, of course, is what happens in practice at
the moment because it has to. What I would be hoping is that it
be done on a more planned and transparent basis.
Q41 Alun Michael: I appreciate it
is difficult to express into practicalities. We had evidence from
work that was funded by the Esme Fairbairn Trust about the lack
of knowledge of sentencers, particularly judges, of what actually
happenswhat a community sentence meanswhich seemed
to imply that judges ought to get out more and find out what is
going on. That is an example of enlightenment. One of the suggestions
out of that work was that that should become mainstream work within
the criminal justice system, that sentencers ought to get out
more and ought to have a better appreciation of community sentences,
understand them better and use them more effectively. Are you
doing any work on that?
Jonathan Slater: There is an area
of work that we have taken on under the banner of community justice
in which efforts that have been taken over the last few years
to improve the engagement between sentencers and the public at
large are expanded.
Q42 Alun Michael: I am more concerned
about sentencers. Can I put it to you that you ought to take that
Esme Fairbairn funded workso it has not cost the department
anythingand use that as a model for getting justices and
judges in every part of the country out experiencing community
sentencing, engaging with it and improving the alignment, back
to your word, of the criminal justice system in that regard?
Jonathan Slater: Yes, I will bring
in Catherine in a moment to make sure I am satisfying your question,
but the reason I referred to community justice was that on Friday
I was up in North Liverpool with Judge Fletcher looking at the
way that he has sought to engage much more actively with local
communities than is typical, and that is a responsibility we have
been given in OCJR to promote widely.
Q43 Alun Michael: With respect, that
is one of the projects that was funded by the Esme Fairbairn Trust,
is it not, in Cheshire and Liverpool?
Jonathan Slater: No, it is funded
from within the criminal justice system. The Ministry of Justice
has the lead financial responsibility, responsibility for courts.
We are working on proposals to expand that good practice that
one sees in relatively small numbers of courts, building on the
pilot in North Liverpool, Selford and eleven other magistrates'
courts, with proposals to expand that more widely across the system
for precisely the reason that you mention.
Q44 Alun Michael: Has that changed
sentencing in those courts that you refer to?
Jonathan Slater: It is too early
Q45 Chairman: It is not too early
in Liverpool: it has been going for quite some time now.
Jonathan Slater: I was going to
say it was too early to evidence an impact on reoffending rates,
but I take the point. I have not seen comparative data on sentencing
outcomes before and after. Certainly Judge Fletcher would argue,
if he were here, that it enables him to demonstrate
Q46 Chairman: Do not worry, we have
met him. Can I ask a broader question? Is the National Criminal
Justice Board capable, by its very nature, of putting together
and putting before ministers proposals for radical shifts in the
way money is spent within the system, or is it actually the forum
where people would fight to the last ditch to prevent such radical
shifts from taking place?
Jonathan Slater: I joined OCJR
as the Chief Executive only last April, so I am not able to give
a well-informed historical perspective, but I am told
Q47 Alun Michael: It is a whole year.
Jonathan Slater: Yes, it has been
a fascinating 12 months. I am told that the agencies that come
together at the National Criminal Justice Board work much more
collectively now than they did. Certainly, I do not see raised
voices arguing about the last penny at that meeting at all. No,
I see evidence of agencies seeking to collaborate. Clearly, if
you have got your budget, you want to make sure that you are not
just giving away for the sake of it, but, equally, I see lots
of examples of people transferring resources between each other
in order to improve the efficiency of the system as a whole. For
example, one of our roles is to provide information to all LCJBs
about where inefficiencies exist. I was looking at an example
in Leicestershire of agreement across the system for the police
to get more resources because it would benefit CPS if they were
to invest more effectively pre-charge. It would be of benefit
to the CPS and so a transfer of funding took place accordingly.
My job is to negotiate investment in new projects across the system
in which each agency provides funding for the benefit as a whole,
and our job is to make sure that people put in funding where they
will make a further benefit as a result, or, in London, to see,
again, the funding that the police have given the CPS, in order
to improve the effectiveness of the service they get and its efficiency.
So we are seeing people working collaboratively and transferring
funding much more than we did in the past.
Q48 Chairman: To whom are you looking
to achieve greater public confidence in the criminal justice system?
We had evidence earlier which suggested it was the police who
were expected to do the most to improve public confidence in the
system rather than prisons, probation, youth offending teams.
To whom are you looking to achieve it?
Jonathan Slater: I would be looking
to the CJS to work collaboratively, speaking increasingly with
one voiceI am not suggesting that that is where we are,
I am suggesting that is the objectiveto the public, particularly
to victims of crime, in providing a more joined-up service than
in the past but working with them collaboratively. The service
cannot be a responsibility given to one agency. We are negotiating
plans with each of the Local Criminal Justice Boards collectively
about how they might go about the task of building public confidence
in their work.
Q49 Chairman: Do you assume that
willingness to co-operate with the criminal justice system in
reporting crimes, appearing as a witness, and so forth, is a function
of public confidence in the criminal justice system, or is it
a function of something else, as was suggested to us in some evidence,
such as age, social position, and so forth; that there is not
necessarily a direct relationship between people's confidence
measured by asking them what they think of the criminal justice
system and actually whether they are willing to engage with it
when a crime has been committed in their area or which they know
Jonathan Slater: Confidence in
the criminal justice system is, of course, very complex, as your
question implies. Certainly you will find differing levels of
confidence depending on factors like age, class, and so on, but
that is not to say that one cannot improve public confidence across
the piece, all be it that it is at different levels, by some fairly
straightforward things, including providing much more transparency
about what the system does. There is a very strong correlation
between knowledge of the system and confidence in it, recognising
the variations that you have described. Does that answer your
Q50 Chairman: Have you given any
thought to the impact of the media on confidence? Is there any
work within the framework of the organisations that you bring
together which addresses media attitudes to the criminal justice
Jonathan Slater: Clearly, particularly
in circumstances where most members of the public do not have
much engagement with the criminal justice system day by day, the
media is a source of a lot of information. There is a significant
role for Local Criminal Justice Boards to play in using regional
and local media to get out the facts more effectively, and there
is plenty of opportunity for them so to do. Equally, our advice
to local agencies is that there is plenty that they can do to
directly communicate with the public, often through the police.
As you say, the police, going back to your previous question,
are, more typically than other members of the CJS, engaging with
the front line or with the public all the time, there are more
of them, but getting out the facts and being responsive can build
confidence, whatever the stories might be in the national media,
but, as I say, using the regional and local ones in particular,
you can get a lot of information out across the system.
Q51 Chairman: Generally speaking,
police have a fairly active media policy which is usually directed,
I suppose not surprisingly, towards demonstrating what a lot they
are doing, and it includes taking television crews to scenes of
dawn raids and all this sort of thing, but if that is the only
part of the criminal justice system that is engaging with the
media, does that not give a slightly slanted picture?
Jonathan Slater: I was focusing
particularly on the work that they do, which is generally more
facing the front line, but clearly you are right, it is important
that each agency engages effectively with the national media.
To take one thing that we do in OCJR, there is an annual justice
awards ceremony that we run, seeking to identify excellent practice,
people who have provided a really excellent service for victims,
or whatever. The Mirror, just to give you one example,
invites its readers to vote amongst the different participants
and sponsors the award in the way that I am implying, which increases
the profile. That is just one example of the sort of thing that
might be done, but it is important for all agencies to work in
that way, of course.
Catherine Lee: I was just going
to add, building on that, that is very much the national picture,
but we know that actually confidence can be most driven up and
most effective by local media coverage, which is why part of the
money that we provide to Local Criminal Justice Boards for their
support is to pay for a communications officer who actually works
across agency in the local area, to liaise with the media, to
promote campaigns, to try and get messages out about how the criminal
justice system is operating in their particular area.
Q52 Mr Turner: What added value do
you expect the Victims' Champion to provide here?
Jonathan Slater: It seems to me
that she can provide a number of roles. She can be a very immediate
voice of victims nationally. I would expect her to come along,
for example, to talk to the National Criminal Justice Board about
what she thinks from her perspective are the sort of priorities
that the Board should be focusing on in their work in a more immediate
way than without having such a person in place. We have statutory
roles to review the Code of Practice that was rolled out in 2006,
but again, having someone like the Victims' Champion in place
can provide a really direct challenge to make sure that the voice
of victims is heard in a way that would not have been done so
to the same degree without it. It is a more immediate, high profile
voice to act as a challenge to us all in the work that we do.
Q53 Mr Turner: What is the difference
between the post of Victims' and Witnesses' Commissioner and the
recently quoted Victims' Champion?
Jonathan Slater: The Victims'
Commissioner was legislated for in 2004, as you will be aware.
An unsuccessful attempt was made to appoint one subsequently.
Subsequent to that, the decision was made to invest the money
in direct services to victims. Having moved on and made some significant
successes there, in particular the funding of Victim Support now
as a national organisation, we have reviewed the 2004 legislation
which sets out, when you look at it in detail, a requirement for
the Victims' Commissioner to operate as if they were a non-departmental
public body with an office, a set of annual accounts, quite a
bit of overhead of the sort that might have been appropriate when
there was not a national voice for victims. Victim Support at
the time was a series of over 70 individual charities, but now
you have got a national victim support organisation. So rather
than spending money on a national office to support a commissioner,
focus instead on using the resources that might have been used
for direct services and appoint a voice. The legislation is what
the legislation is, so that is why we have appointed a Victims'
Champion and that is why ministers are seeking parliamentary approval
to amend the 2004 Act to tackle the issue that I have just described,
and in the meantime, to avoid losing momentum, a Victims' Champion
is what we have.
Q54 Mr Turner: You have got rid of
the Victims' and Witnesses' Commissioner or you have not appointed
Jonathan Slater: An attempt was
made to appoint in 2006 unsuccessfully.
Q55 Mr Turner: What was wrong with
Jonathan Slater: I am not sure
there was anything wrong with it. Ministers were not satisfied
by the calibre of the candidates that they had at the time.
Q56 Mr Turner: Something must have
been wrong with it.
Jonathan Slater: What I am suggesting
is that it is just as important, I would think, now as it was
then that there should be a strong, independent voice of victims
playing the roles that I have described. It is not true now, I
do not think, but this will be a matter for Parliament, that the
sort of bureaucracy associated with the post makes sense in the
light of role of Victim Support: seeking parliamentary approval
to tackle that thing which no longer seems right but not accepting
the absence of a commissioner; instead getting on with the appointment
of somebody in the meantime to play that role but in a non-statutory
Q57 Alun Michael: Can I follow up
on a couple of things to do with the victim. I am surprised what
you have said about Victim Support. It has been a very effective
organisation for about 15 years, in my experience. Firstly, the
purpose of the Victims' Commissioner. I am sitting on the committee
dealing with the Coroners and Justice Bill, which includes this,
and I have put forward some amendments on that to suggest that
one thing that the Victims' Commissioner might do is to act as
a single point for complaints: because at the moment, we have
heard in evidence, there are something like ten different bits
to the criminal justice system, each of them with a different
way of making a complaint, which means that the complainant, particularly
if it is a victim, has to understand the criminal justice system,
which given that, I suspect, you do not and I do not, is a bit
of a big ask for victims. Would you agree: it would be a good
idea to give a role to the Victims' Commissioner in not undertaking
the investigation but co-ordinating the system to make sure that
if a victim has got a complaint they get the complaint answered
without having to have a degree in criminal justice system organisation?
Jonathan Slater: In case the point
I was making about Victim Support was not properly expressed,
I was not seeking to imply for a moment that Victim Support has
not been a very effective organisation for 15 years; I was making
the point that it has become a national organisation since the
2004 Act and that the proposition for a national office to support
a commissioner is not as valid now as then. That was the only
point I was seeking to make, significant or otherwise. In respect
to your question about complaints, as you know, given your membership,
the Government's proposals are not to change the brief of the
Victims' Commissioner from that set out in the 2004 Act to avoid
a situation in which they might get overwhelmed by dealing with
complaints. I take your point about co-ordination rather than
handling complaints, but I think the Government's view is that
the role set out in the 2004 Act, keeping the code of good practice
under review, and so on, is sufficient for the Commissioner to
be very well occupied.
Q58 Alun Michael: Looking at the
levels of satisfaction, the British Crime Survey shows that there
has been a marginal increase in victim and witness satisfaction
over the last couple of years, going up from 58% to 60% but compared
to that the satisfaction of people who are engaged in restorative
justice (and I am referring to the victims in this case) over
90% and 73% plus actually felt safer as a result of an incident
of restorative justice. Given your co-ordinating role, are you
promoting greater use of restorative justice within the criminal
justice system in the interests of victims?
Jonathan Slater: That is a task
that we have recently taken on. Ministers share your view about
the benefits to victim satisfaction in particular of restorative
justice. It is a bit more difficult to demonstrate evidence on
reoffending, but there is excellent evidence, as you say, about
satisfaction levels. We are just kicking off a project now to
identify really good practice, where we can find it, of restorative
justice and encourage Local Criminal Justice Boards to invest
more in that area in the light of this objective.
Alun Michael: It would be helpful if
we could have a note about that, because that might relate to
some of the work we have been doing as a committee, Chairman.
Q59 Mr Heath: At some time we must
explore the hierarchy between champions and SARS and commissioners
as to exactly who does what. I am going to move to Local Criminal
Justice Boards, if I may, and I am going to start, as a former
audit commissioner, with what your commission had to say back
in 2003 when they said that there were three challenges facing
the Criminal Justice Boards: engagement, governance and performance.
I wondered to what extent you feel they have successfully addressed
those challenges since 2003 and are they still the relevant challenges
for today or are there new challenges?
Jonathan Slater: They are certainly
all relevant challenges. I would say that Local Criminal Justice
Boards could demonstrate significant improvements in each of those
three things over the last five years, all be it that performance
is inevitably variable, as the Audit Commission would always rightly
point out, but Local Criminal Justice Boards could demonstrate
how they have worked to increase the number of offences brought
justice, reduced discontinuance, increased, all be it not as much
as they would like, levels of satisfaction. So I think there is
a performance agenda that they could talk to that we have supported
them very actively on.