Responsibility for 'administering' justice

The Lord Chancellors' Department and the Home Office are set for a confrontation with magistrates court administrators over proposals for changes in magistrates court enforcement procedures (The Lawyer 12 December).

Mr Justice Popplewell has given leave for judicial review to be sought of plans for a shift of responsibility in respect of enforcement work.

The proposals of the Lord Chancellor and the Home Secretary which are being challenged involve enforcement matters becoming the responsibility of civilian court employees rather than the police.

However, court administrators the Central Council of Magistrates Courts Committee (CCMCC) is challenging this move on the grounds that it is "unlawful and invalid".

Mr Justice Popplewell held that there is an "arguable case" and that it should be fully aired as a matter of urgency.

The CCMCC, the body responsible for running the courts, claims there has been a lack of consultation over the proposals. It also argues that the 1980 Magistrates Courts Act prevents a bench of magistrates from directing issue of an arrest warrant for a fine defaulter to any person other than a police officer.

Geoffrey Woolhouse, solicitor for the CCMCC, said the job of magistrates was to "administer justice – not to enforce it".

He said that £8 million was being moved from the Home Office to the LCD to fund the transfer but experts estimated that it would cost around £8 million to do the job in London, let alone England and Wales.