Public and Commercial Services Union
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Legal staff cuts criticised

PCS accused Justice Secretary, Jack Straw MP, of a startling lack of foresight?today in reaction to proposals to slash 318 legal staff in courts by HM Courts Service, just days after he announced a review of the police's use of cautions and fixed penalty notices.

The review comes at the same time as the union were informed by Her Majesty’s Courts Service (HMCS) of plans to reduce front-line staff, including legal advisers who provide in-court advice to lay justices, by as much as 27% next year.

The Justice Secretary reacted to concerns raised by magistrates’ and the Director of Public Prosecutions earlier this week by instructing the Office for Criminal Reform to look again at how tens of thousands of criminal offences, including rapes and violent assaults are “disposed of” by means other than prosecution through the courts, such as cautions or fines.

The reduction in staffing arises from a drop off in court workload, much of which is directly attributable to the increase in the use of conditional cautions and fixed penalties for offences which used to be brought to court. The union fears that the cuts could either restrict or undermine any recommendations made by the Office for Criminal Reform.

The cuts are based on financial projections arising from a new resource allocation model used by the Ministry of Justice to help achieve £1bn in savings by 2011 which the union warned were short sighted.

PCS negotiations officer, Peter Middleman commented, “Not only does experience show that crime tends to go up in times of economic crisis but with the possibility of tens of thousands of other offences finding their way back in to the courts system, now is the worst time possible to be thinking about slashing jobs in HMCS”.

You can’t have justice on the cheap and the government need to urgently reconsider these latest cuts 

PCS general secretary, Mark Serwotka added, “The timing of these announcements displays a startling lack of foresight and the public ought to be concerned about the ability of courts to cope with increasing workloads and decreasing staff resources. Cuts are a recipe for delays, court closures and an altogether less efficient criminal justice system. You can’t have justice on the cheap and the government need to urgently reconsider these latest cuts.”

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