Crime and Courts Bill

Memorandum submitted by Christopher Valaitis (C&C 12)

Dear Mr Richard Burden MP,

I am writing to you as my constituency MP to ask for your support in ensuring the enforcement of fines imposed by courts and fixed penalties are not privatised. I would like to invite you to attend a drop-in briefing being held by my union PCS on this issue on Tuesday 22 January from 2-3.30pm in room W2, the House of Commons.

2,000 people employed by HM Courts and Tribunals Service in the enforcement of criminal fines and fixed penalty notices have increased fine collection by 14.5%. This is achieved by chasing down the most difficult cases. Much of this work is completed after the private sector has failed to collect outstanding fines. Private companies are more likely to chase fixed penalty notices for things like speeding fines rather than criminal fines that are harder to collect.

Despite court enforcement staff exceeding every target in the last year, the government wastes taxpayers' money using private bailiff companies, who add their own charges to fines for the offender to pay and only bring in 30% of the money they are given to collect.

Citizens Advice has seen a rise in complaints about private bailiffs. Many of these related to the misrepresenting of powers and intimidating behaviour on the doorstep of people's homes. They have also been known to charge fees over and above what is lawful. By contrast the CAB states they see far fewer problems with county court bailiffs, where there is greater oversight and a funding system that does not encourage bad practice.

During the Crime and Courts Bill's passage through the House of Lords, Peers raised concerns that the government's consultation on Transforming Bailiff Action had not even been released. At third reading the bill was amended to include an independents appeals process for people with complaints about bailiffs. This is welcome but surely, when there are clearly concerns about the conduct of private bailiffs, the government should not be looking to contract out more enforcement work.

The Bill is now entering the House of Commons. Clause 23 seeks to amend the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 to allow all functions of fines officers to be contracted-out. I would ask you to oppose this.

The Ministry of Justice's record on contracting out its services has been abysmal. It has been heavily criticised by the Public Accounts Committee for its handling of a £42 million contract for court interpreter services which saw only 58% of bookings met. This resulted in chaos with a sharp rise in delayed, postponed and abandoned trials and individuals kept on remand solely because no interpreter was available.

I am concerned that lessons have not been learnt from the interpreter debacle. If similar failings are allowed to happen on the enforcement contract the results would be catastrophic for the delivery of justice.

I would ask you to support amendments to the Crime and Courts Bill that seek to stop the contracting out of enforcement services and at least ensure that the private bailiff industry is adequately regulated. Please also write to the Justice Secretary the Rt Hon Chris Grayling asking for him to withdraw the plans to privatise.

Please let me know if you are able to attend the parliamentary drop-in briefing on 22 January where PCS reps will be on hand to brief you further.

February 2013

Prepared 7th February 2013