Tuesday 30 July 2013 by Catherine Baksi
Courts staff will strike this afternoon over government plans to privatise the collection of fines, the Public and Commercial Services union said.
The two-hour walkout across England and Wales will coincide with protests in London and Manchester organised by the Justice Alliance, which includes the union, to mark the 64th anniversary of legal aid and protest over the planned cuts.
The union said the Ministry of Justice's privatisation plan would put the collection of courts fines and fixed-penalty notices in the hands of private bailiffs.
In a letter to Peter Handcock, chief executive of HM Courts & Tribunals Service, the union's MoJ group president Jacqueline Green wrote: 'The proposal to privatise criminal enforcement needs to be thought through and the timetable for implementation needs to be halted with immediate effect.'
Collection and enforcement staff say that the change is not needed as they met their targets and improved collection rates by 15% last year.
The union raised concerns over the use of private bailiffs, who, unlike public sector staff are unregulated. Citizens Advice Bureaux received 25,000 complaints about them last year.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: 'The recent tagging scandal ought to have been enough for the government to hold back on privatising what is another sensitive area of our justice system.
'As part of a growing campaign against cuts across the justice sector we will continue to oppose this sell-off that risks exposing people to rogue bailiffs whose sole aim is to make profits.'
A HMCTS spokesperson said: 'We recognise that more must be done to improve fine collection. An external provider will bring in the necessary investment and technology needed to help increase fine collection, reduce enforcement costs and importantly ensure more criminals pay.
'It is disappointing that the PCS are proposing industrial action at this stage, but we remain committed to ensuring that our staff are respected and treated fairly before, during and after any commercial process.'