Selling off court fine enforcement would put profit before security

James Davies, PCS campaigns officer for law and justice, says the government's plans to outsource the collection of court fines will put the profits of a private bailiff firm before the safety and security of vulnerable people

PCS has launched a campaign to halt the Conservative government’s latest attempt to privatise sensitive work in our justice system. 

On 1 August, civil servants employed as civilian enforcement officers (CEOs) were told that the work they do enforcing financial fines for the criminal courts, will be put out to tender.

This could see about 150 staff outsourced to a private company, but it will also put the safety and finances of the public at risk. 

This comes less than two years after an attempt to privatise all enforcement work was abandoned; a Freedom of Information request by PCS revealed the five-year project cost taxpayers £8 million. 

CEOs currently employed directly by HM Courts and Tribunals Service are subject to the civil service code governing standards of behaviour. They have the authority to enter and search premises and place defaulters in custody, and can access sensitive data held on government systems, including the Police National Computer. 

The code would not apply to staff working for private companies motivated by profit. It’s widely acknowledged that the private bailiff industry is poorly regulated and the government’s 2014 Taking Control of Goods reforms haven’t gone far enough.

Citizens Advice and other debt charities have recently reported that these reforms, in the absence of an independent regulator, have had little impact on protecting the public from overzealous and aggressive bailiffs. 

The TUC warns that average household debt in the UK stands at a record £13,000. This means more vulnerable people could be subjected to more aggressive tactics from bailiffs driven by payment by results, rather than by the delivery of justice. 

Considering outsourcing this work without proper measures in place to protect the public, is a reckless move by the government when austerity is biting more and more families.  

Ultimately privatising this work will put the profits of a private bailiff firm before the safety and security of vulnerable people, and the delivery of fair and effective justice.  

PCS is arguing that, instead of privatising this highly sensitive work, the government should work to ensure that CEOs working in HMCTS have the resources available to them to carry out their work. 

You can support our campaign by emailing your MP asking them to oppose this privatisation. 

This post was orginally posted on the Touchstone blog.

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