Court unions claim partial victory over PFI moves

A PARTIAL climb-down by the Court Service over plans to “privatise” court computing and administrative functions has averted a national court strike this week.

The Court Service is negotiating with foreign multinational companies over the plans, brought under the Government's Private Finance Initiative (PFI), and involving an extensive £50 to £70 million five-year outsourcing contract.

The Court Service move still leaves some elements in place, including the private sector outsourcing of the civil and criminal courts' listing systems. Both unions will lobby Parliament this week and are set to continue their strike at the Court Service head office.

Civil and Public Servants Association (CPSA) officer Brian Sturtevant said his union and the National Union of Civil and Public Servants (NUCPS) had wrung from Court Service chief executive Michael Huebner as many concessions as he was empowered to make.

“We still hope to persuade the Lord Chancellor, whom we are due to meet, to not proceed with the PFI because it is wrong in principle,” said Sturtevant.

Azim Hajee, NUCPS officer, added: “PFI is an expensive, lease-back scam designed for tax cuts. It places new technology and modernisation of the courts under powerful multinational control. Justice is too fundamental to be auctioned off in the marketplace.”

An LCD spokeswoman said the move to drop administrative functions stemmed from talks with the tendering companies as well as unions. The contract still embraces “replication and on-going support of the Caseman County Court system, the County Court Bulk Summons Production and Parking Enforcement Centres, development, support and eventual replacement of Crest (in the Crown Court), and support of the Bacchus system in the bankruptcy and company courts,” she said

Law firm Masons is caught in the political crossfire for its role in advising the Court Service on its plans. Masons' £25,000 contract, revealed through Labour Parliamentary questions, is an unnecessary public expense said Labour.