MMC police duties plan goes on hold

THE GOVERNMENT is deferring for a year its controversial plan to transfer enforcement of fines and other court orders from police to Magistrates Court Committees (MCCs).

The transfer proposal triggered a legal action against the Government late last year.

The Magistrates Association (MA) says it was told by the Lord Chancellor's Department that Lord Mackay and Home Secretary Michael Howard “acknowledged the problems which have emerged” in talks with MCCs.

Deferring the transfer for 12 months will allow time to put an operational framework in place, needed to allow MCCs to handle the new duties.

Most MCCs welcomed the idea of enforcing their own fines, believing the police saw this as low-priority work.

But many MCCs, already suffering funding and staff cutbacks, were outraged by the inadequate extra funding they say was offered, as well as over a dozen other duties for court order enforcement unexpectedly foisted onto them.

Research by The Lawyer last year found almost a quarter of MCCs surveyed were uncertain whether they could afford to take on the new work.

The Government has also turned down MA demands for legislative changes to halt the Child Support Agency over-riding magistrate's decisions on maintenance payments.

According to a letter in The Magistrate magazine, Andrew Mitchell, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Social Security, said “the clear failure of the discretionary system operated by the courts to deliver adequate levels of maintenance” had necessitated the current child support law.

In the same issue, MA chair Rosemary Thomson countered that magistrates are disillusioned and frustrated.

Mike Yuille