Statistics, Damned Statistics, and the Truth
Wheeldon’s experience at the hands of the Justice Select Committee on 30.10.12 was akin to being ‘savaged by a dead sheep’ to quote Denis Healey’s words about Geoffrey Howe in 1978. Still Howe was not so woolly when he jugulated Margaret Thatcher’s political career in 1990, so perhaps the JSC will prove to be wolves in sheep’s clothing after all. Let’s hope so.
Be that as it may I want to start with the answer to question 132 of that JSC hearing. When Wheeldon miscalculated the percentage of short-notice hearings to be ‘in the region of 5%’ instead of ‘more like 25% to 30%’ he blamed the MoJ’s Management Information. He’s not the Delphic Oracle after all. Nevertheless this was a serious miscalculation which had profound consequences for the contract. It led to the withdrawal of ALS from the short-notice element of the booking requests. As a consequence of that, the statistics for such short-term requests (such as they were) were omitted from the official figures, meaning that the findings of the two statistical reports published so far must be hopelessly skewed.
On short-term bookings in general, the MoJ maintains two positions that are not mutually tenable. On the one hand, in the first statistical report, it peddles the line that the super-efficient ALS deals with bookings ‘made less than an hour before they are needed’ (p.10). On the other hand, back in February, the MoJ had issued the following directive: ‘HMCTS will revert to the previous arrangements for all bookings due within 24 hours at the Magistrates’ Courts’. Note the pseudo-robustness of the words ‘will’ & ‘all’. Perhaps the MoJ would call this sort of directive ‘long overdue diligence’. To move on however, the MoJ’s submissions to the JSC (CI 67 paragraph 4) include the following sentence: ‘statistics published in May 2012 [the initial report] show that just over 90% of bookings (excluding short notice bookings) were filled in April’. We will return to the subject of the availability (or otherwise) of statistics for short-notice bookings, but, for now, given Wheeldon’s answer above, it seems that, even when the servicing of the contract was reaching a head of speed, only a maximum of 75% of 90% of all court interpreter bookings were being fulfilled. That is 67.5%.
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