The government's court modernisation programme could result in the loss of 6,500 jobs by 2022, the judiciary has revealed in briefing documents issued to judges and magistrates. The Courts and Tribunals Judiciary's four Judicial Ways of Working 2022 publications - covering civil, crime, family and tribunals - also shed further light on the government's controversial efforts to extend court opening hours.
The crime document states that staff numbers could fall from 16,500 at the start of the reform programme to just over 10,000. HM Courts & Tribunals Service 'is clear' that staff in courts must include court clerks, listings officers and those responsible for case progression. There is also a 'commitment' to provide enough ushers. Roles such as the digital support officer and staff to help manage video hearings will remain.
Fears of job cuts in the courts service were stoked last month when a business figure dubbed by the GMB trade union 'the Prince of Darkness' for cutting thousands of jobs was appointed to oversee the reform programme. Tim Parker, chair of the Post Office, Samsonite and the National Trust, is the new chair of the board of HM Courts & Tribunals Service.
In a statement to the Gazette today, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), which is the largest trade union operating in the Ministry of Justice, claimed the latest changes are driven by the government's austerity agenda.
Mark Serwotka, PCS general secretary, said: 'Our court system is in meltdown. Courts are kept from sinking by the hard work of the dedicated staff who keep them afloat in the face of budget cuts. Any further cuts will make their job impossible and those seeking to access justice will suffer as a consequence.
'The reliability of technology in our courts isn’t up to scratch and the new technology that’s been introduced so far is far from reliable. These changes aren’t about improving access to justice, they’re about delivering a more detached, virtual service and cutting costs.
'We will fight any compulsory redundancies, and court and hearing centre closures which reduce access to justice.'
The government has recently said little about the future of its flexible court plans. However, the crime paper states that any plans would involve different judicial and court staff rather than longer hours for an individual judge or magistrate.
The civil paper states that where flexible operating hours are considered, 'they should not mean longer working hours for the judiciary and anti-social hours of working should not be imposed'. It says the civil jurisdiction is 'expressly affected' by the flexible operating hours pilots and a decision is 'expected soon'.
The family paper says any future implementation of flexible operating hours should only happen with judicial consent and should not mean longer judicial working hours.
The tribunals paper states that flexible operating hours will not mean longer working hours or any change to working patterns, unless the judge offers to change their own working pattern.