Courts could slash staffing following PFI privatisation

The Lord Chancellors Department is proposing to cut 10 per cent of magistrates court staff under a new scheme to privatise court fines collection under PFI.

Rosie Eagleson, the general secretary of the Association of Magisterial Officers (AMO), which represents more than 50 per cent of court staff, claimed: “This will inevitably lead to compulsory redundancies and a serious deterioration in the service to the public.”

The LCD has put the running of the courts' computer system Libra out to tender under a PFI contract, and it is now suggesting tenderers might also provide a centralised accounting system, which would include the collection of court fines. Local magistrates courts committees will be asked for their views.

The collection of court fines is currently carried out by magistrates court staff under the control of local courts committees. Eagleson said the proposed centralisation and privatisation of the collection system under one national contract would remove local control.

She said: “A private company's priority is to make money. They will target the fines that are easy to collect – the motoring and one-offs. The courts have different priorities.”

AMO is holding a conference in Bristol this weekend (24 and 25 April) to air court staff's concerns. It will be addressed by Labour legal affairs spokesman Paul Boateng and TUC project director Frances O'Grady. An LCD spokeswoman said: “At the moment, this is only an option.”