Wrangle over representation of justices' chief executives

A dispute has broken out between various magistrates' courts groups over how best to represent justices' chief executives without undermining the courts' judicial independence.

In an open letter to the Lord Chancellor's Department, the Chief Executives' Group, one of three groups claiming to represent chief executives, has called for a national debate on the issue.

It was responding to claims from Gary Streeter, parliamentary secretary at the Lord Chancellor's Department, that chief executives were not getting their views across.

But the group has rejected calls to join the Justices' Clerks Society claiming such a move would “distort the balance of management representation in the service”.

The chief executive post was created by the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994. Chief executives are responsible for the day-to-day administration of Magistrate's Court Committees, while responsibility for judicial matters rests in the hands of justices' clerks.

Three separate bodies currently claim to represent JCEs: the Justices' Clerks Society, the Standing Conference of Clerks to MCCs, and the Chief Executives' Group.

The former two groups have issued proposals to create a new body representing both JCEs and Justices' Clerks.

But, in the letter, the chair of the Chief Executives' Group, John Finnigan, said the proposals were premature. “These proposals would undermine the scheme of the act, confusing and distorting the balance of management representation in the Service.”

Finnigan argues that the judicial independence of Justices' Clerks must be preserved, so it would be better to have two separate bodies representing the executive and judicial sides of MCCs.