Select Committee on Constitution Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240 - 259)

WEDNESDAY 21 FEBRUARY 2007

RT HON SIR IGOR JUDGE, MR MIKE WICKSTEED AND MR PETER FARR

  Q240  Baroness O'Cathain: One of the interesting things in the YouGov poll was that judges actually came higher than BBC news journalists.

  Mr Wicksteed: That would probably have been in the days of Mr Rozenberg, when he was there. The interesting thing about the YouGov poll was that the judiciary were the only profession to have actually increased in public confidence in the three years since the previous poll was taken. Every other single profession was a negative. Why that is I do not know, but I thought it was pretty impressive.

  Q241  Chairman: Are you claiming credit for that?

  Mr Wicksteed: No, I am afraid I cannot.

  Q242  Lord Goodlad: Could I ask something about the organisational structure of the JCO? How many people work in the JCO; how many of them are press officers and how many of them are qualified lawyers and to whom does the head of the JCO report?

  Mr Wicksteed: I will answer the last question first. I report to Deborah Matthews who is head of the Directorate of Judicial Offices for England and Wales and that directorate comprises our office, the Judicial Office and the Judicial Studies Board. I work to the Lord Chief Justice and the senior judiciary. The office itself has eight posts; we actually have nine staff because one of those posts is a job share. There are two press officer posts, Peter is one and the job share post is in fact the other press officer post so we are actually getting 0.2 of a press officer for free under that particular set-up. The corporate side of the office has a staff of four: two who look after Web and intranet issues, one who is the editor of Benchmark which is the monthly judicial magazine, and that is headed up by Mr Golding who oversees that team.

  Q243  Lord Goodlad: Are they lawyers?

  Mr Wicksteed: None of them are lawyers, or none of us are lawyers, no.

  Q244  Lord Goodlad: Could I ask if, when the set-up and operation of the office was designed, you looked at similar organisations in other legal systems? Do you have sufficient resources and what is the size and nature of your budget?

  Mr Wicksteed: We did look around to see if there were similar organisations; there are not. I am not saying we are the only judicial communications office in the world, but in other jurisdictions and in other countries they tend to have a responsibility not only for the judiciary but for the courts themselves. We do not have that responsibility; Her Majesty's Court Service has its own communications team so in that sense we are fairly unique. I might be wrong, but I have not come across another office that supports the judiciary. You asked whether I have enough staff resource; we are governed by a head count ceiling which means that even if I wanted another member of staff to increase the eight to nine or ten I cannot do that in the present climate, and that ceiling is across Whitehall at the moment. We are constantly reviewing the set-up that we have within our own head count resource and it could well be that maybe in a year's time we would be in a position to increase the press office side of the business to maybe three press officers, but then we would have to lose someone somewhere else. We are not quite at that stage yet.

  Q245  Lord Goodlad: And the budget?

  Mr Wicksteed: The budget for next year is £890,000. I have the detail: £452,000 of that goes on salaries; office running costs will be £55,000; training for the staff, visits, team visits and suchlike will be £25,000; the Web is expensive, that is £90,000; Benchmark the judicial magazine, which is only published electronically, we do not publish it in printed format because that would be absolutely extortionate, comes in at £45,000 and then we have the running of the press office and projects that we may be looking at next year but we have not confirmed yet.

  Chairman: Discussion of budgets always excites supplementary questions. Lord Peston and then Lord Morris.

  Q246  Lord Peston: £400K is the wage costs.

  Mr Wicksteed: £450K approximately.

  Q247  Lord Peston: How many staff?

  Mr Wicksteed: Eight staff.

  Q248  Lord Peston: That is £50,000 odd each.

  Mr Wicksteed: It would be jolly nice if we all got the money but we do not.

  Q249  Lord Peston: That staff includes secretaries and researchers.

  Mr Wicksteed: That includes the eight of us.

  Q250  Lord Morris of Aberavon: That is everybody.

  Mr Wicksteed: Everybody, yes.

  Q251  Lord Peston: The eight are the press people and secretaries.

  Mr Wicksteed: The press people, the corporate communications team.

  Q252  Lord Peston: Eight seems very few but on the other hand £400K seems about the right number, that is why I am trying to get my head round it a little bit.

  Mr Wicksteed: Maybe I am paid too much.

  Q253  Lord Peston: I assumed when you said the eight that in addition to the eight each of the eight would have a secretary and then you would have researchers and people answering the phone.

  Mr Wicksteed: No, we do all that ourselves.

  Q254  Lord Peston: You are a very economical organisation in that sense.

  Mr Wicksteed: In the sense that I do not have a secretary to support me, yes.

  Lord Peston: In terms of almost fundamental economics that is bad, you ought not to be doing that, your comparative advantage is in being what you are, not in being a secretary, a phone-answerer and all that.

  Q255  Baroness O'Cathain: That is very old-fashioned, Lord Peston.

  Mr Wicksteed: It would be nice but, as I say, we are governed by the head count.

  Lord Peston: You are economical so that is a good plus.

  Q256  Lord Morris of Aberavon: You say you are new; you replaced something, what of the staff of what you replaced?

  Mr Wicksteed: I am sorry, I did not follow that.

  Q257  Lord Morris of Aberavon: You are an organisation of eight people and you have a new function. There must have been somebody doing some of your work before. Now we have one and a half press officers it seems to be very slim, but what have you replaced?

  Mr Wicksteed: We do not replace anything, we are brand new. What Lord Mackay did when he became Lord Chancellor was he made his press office, back in the Lord Chancellor's Department, available to the judiciary and so up until April 2005 all calls relating to the judiciary were handled by the Lord Chancellor's Department or latterly the DCA press office.

  Q258  Lord Woolf: Forgive me, it is not right, however, to say that the decision to have a press office was linked to the decision no longer to have a Lord Chancellor. If I may just refresh your memory, there had been problems about the Lord Chancellor's Department acting as the press office for the judiciary before the Lord Chancellor's office was reformed and at least the negotiations for the creation of a press office predated the demise of Lord Irvine.

  Mr Wicksteed: Yes, and the office does not exist under the Constitutional Reform Act, it would have happened anyway if that Act had come into force or not.

  Q259  Chairman: Am I right in thinking, or have I got this wrong, that your budget, this £800,000 or so, is actually DCA money?

  Mr Wicksteed: It is allocated through DCA, yes.


 
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