The Department for Constitutional Affairs (DCA) is to lay off at least 1,300 staff by the end of March next year.

According to a letter from Alex Allan, permanent secretary at the DCA, posted on the Courts Service intranet, the largest number ? around 1,000 ? will go from the Courts Service itself, with a further 300 to go from the new Tribunals Service, human resources and ?other parts of the DCA?.

Mr Allan told staff that the department expects to achieve ?most of this through normal turnover and tight controls on recruitment, coupled with some redeployment and release of agency staff?, but admitted that this may not be enough. ?In some parts of the business,? he wrote, ?we may need to invite volunteers for early departure schemes.?

The 1,300 DCA job losses are 200 more than Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, announced in his 2004 spending review. The cuts at the Courts Service represent 5% of its staff.

Alan Beith MP, chairman of the constitutional affairs committee, said the move seemed more to do with the DCA?s inability to make called-for reductions than because extra fat needed to be trimmed.

?Again the legal aid tail is wagging the dog,? he told the Gazette. ?I?d be much happier if we were confronted with a genuine assessment of what savings can be made.?

Mr Beith said the committee has called for an explanation from the DCA, and will monitor the cuts to make sure the courts are not degraded.

The main union representing court staff, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), condemned the reductions, saying that ?cuts on such a scale would bring the justice system to a halt?.

Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the PCS, said: ?The inevitable consequence of slashing jobs will be a growing backlog of cases and the grinding to a halt of the justice system in some parts of the country. With cuts on such a scale we cannot rule out a ballot for industrial action in defence of our justice system.?

Mr Allan said in his letter that it had not yet been decided how the redundancies will be made, but insisted that voluntary redundancy schemes would be ?largely confined to specialist and middle to senior management grades?.

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