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STAFF from the Lord Chancellor's Department are on strike over Government plans to "privatise" the computing and administration functions of the County and Crown Courts.
Starting in London at the Court Service head office, stoppages are expected to spread nationally through all staff in the courts, including the Royal Courts of Justice.
The National Union of Civil and Public Servants (NUCPS) and the Civil and Public Servants Association (CPSA) say the various actions are "an unprecedented display of anger against the Government's plans to hand over the Information Services Division to private sector firms as part of the Private Finance Initiative".
The unions and the Labour Party are alarmed over "backdoor privatisation" they say will result from secretive talks between LCD officials and five multi-national computer companies to "outsource" a range of sensitive management and judicial functions in the County and Crown Courts.
The deal involves a five-year contract worth £50-£70 million.
Around 70 LCD head office staff began the first of a series of five-day monthly strikes last week.
NUCPS policy officer for the courts Azim Hajee said the walk-out would affect the collection of Court Service monthly statistics, notification of trial dates for solicitors, and payment for jurors, solicitors, and counsel.
An LCD spokeswoman said the first five-day strike would create some backlog. However, she "would not speculate" on evasive action until after the vote for a national strike on 11 December was known.