Courts gear up to fight fines plan

THE HIGH Court has granted magistrates committees leave to judicially review the Home Secretary and Lord Chancellor over the transfer of police enforcement duties.

The action is being taken by the Central Council of Magistrates Courts Committees (CCMCC), an organisation which represents the 105 Magistrates Courts Committees around the country.

Duncan Webster, general secretary of the CCMCC, said the application for leave was finally made because “we didn't get a response from the Lord Chancellor within the deadline that was set”.

He added: “Our resolve still stands and we are pleased with the outcome of the first hearing. The members of MCCs are very supportive of Central Council in this action.”

The row concerns government plans to transfer duties for enforcing fines from the police to the magistrates.

The CCMCC says the £8 million police budget for doing this, due to be transferred to the magistrates' service, is far too small, because of long-term down grading of enforcement as a priority by police.

According to the organisation, the £8 million would only just fund London alone.

Although MCCs welcomed the idea of enforcing their own fines, they were dismayed to learn recently that the Government had added a mass of extra, unexpected duties for enforcing court orders.

A survey of MCCs by The Lawyer found that 51.7 per cent would not be able to cope with the list of 14 new duties. About 34 per cent said they would face difficulties. Among the 17.2 per cent saying they would cope were the MCCs which already had their own enforcement officers.

Most of the service is under financial pressure and has little or no confidence in the Government's financial handling of it (The Lawyer 5 December).

The Lord Chancellor's Department said Lord Mackay “regretted” that the CCMCC had felt it necessary to take action.

“Officials in this department are working closely with representatives of the magistrates courts to try and resolve the operational issues arising from the transfer of these responsibilities,” said the LCD in a statement.

It added: “The judicial review proceedings can only reduce the time available to deal with these other matters.”

A judicial review hearing is expected in February. Crossman Block partner Geoffrey Woolhouse is acting for the CCMCC.