Strike over court computers settles

The five-month industrial dispute by Court Service Union members has been settled after agreement between Courts Services Agency chief executive Michael Huebner and unions.

The dispute arose over plans by the Lord Chancellor's Department to “privatise” court computer systems under the controversial Private Finance Initiative (PFI). Union members were worried such a move would undermine the impartiality of the courts and threaten confidentiality of court records.

Strike action was taken after announcement that once contracts were awarded staff would have to transfer to the successful bidder or resign.

The settlement terms mean there will be no compulsory transfers. Staff will have the option of a two-year secondment and will then be given the choice of remaining with the civil service or transferring to the private contractor.

The agreement also recognised unions remain “fundamentally opposed to the principle of [PFI] particularly its application to the administration of justice through the development and provision of the core IT structure of the Lord Chancellor's Department and the automation and computerisation of the judicial process”.

Public Services Tax and Commerce Union national officer Azim Hajee said: “This is a victory for common sense and we hope other civil service employees will take note. The agreement recognises our opposition to PFI in the public sector and we will continue to campaign on this issue.”