Magistrates courts will lose out in cuts

CLOSURES of magistrates courts, staff redundancies, increased delays and reduced levels of service will result from the Government's u7.6 million cut of court financing, warns the Central Council of Magistrates' Courts Committees (CCMCC).

Greater uncertainty over strategic budgeting for MCCs will be an inevitable consequence, and will backfire on the Government's original aim of actually improving budgeting certainty through the cash-limiting system of financing court running introduced in 1992, says the CCMCC.

Duncan Webster, general secretary of the CCMCC, says: “How can committees plan when the resources fluctuate so much? This cutting of the funds will force committees to look at possible closures of court rooms.”

Webster says he will ask the Lord Chancellor's Department how Magistrates' Courts Committees (MCCs) can have an input into the budgetry planning cycle at the LCD.

Last year the Government announced details of the revenue cash limits for 1995/96. The public expenditure settlement provided for a grant allocation of u260.12 million – a surprise fall of u7.6 million compared to this year's allocation.

This has hit MCCs' budgets with a three per cent average decrease.

The CCMCC says the magistrates' service does not expect to be exempt from financial constraints besetting public services. But it says the courts are about to undergo substantial reforms under the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994 which the Government estimates will cost u5 million.

Webster says the u7.6 million cut, coupled with its late notification, is forcing MCCs to make “reactive decisions” to balance their books in time for the new financial year.