The government is to cut the number of court areas by almost half in a bid to reduce management, but magistrates and court staff associations are doubtful as to whether this will protect frontline jobs and core court services.
The Courts Service is to reduce the number of areas in England and Wales from 42 to 25, cutting up to 200 posts as part of the Department for Constitutional Affairs? (DCA?s) attempts to reduce courts staff numbers by 1,500 by 2008.
The service said the restructuring would make it more efficient and would not involve frontline staff, claiming that ?being more efficient at the area management level will help to protect some of those frontline jobs?.
The number of DCA staff overall to be axed is up on previous estimates, it has also emerged. In May, the Gazette revealed that job cuts at the department could ?easily top 1,600? (see  Gazette, 11 May, 5). Magistrates? courts staff union PCS claimed this number is now 1,684, adding that the restructuring may not protect frontline services.
The Magistrates Association said the government must talk more to those at the coalface. ?It?s accepted that the service has to make changes,? said Cindy Barnett, chairman of the Magistrates Association, ?but magistrates need reassurance that current arrangements will not be adversely affected?. She said that where decisions affect magistrates ?it is essential, and our right, that we are informed and consulted?.
Unions are not convinced the changes will be for the best. A PCS spokesman said: ?[The service] gives an assurance but not a full assurance ? it?s not all of the frontline jobs [being protected], so there is still concern about where the jobs will go and how these cuts will be achieved.?