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December 20, 2013

Is further courts privatisation credible?

The involvement of G4S and Serco with fraudulent tagging has been well publicised.  The two companies have offered compensation to the government for charging for non existent tags.  Meanwhile Capita has been heavily criticised for failing to provide interpreters to courts, as it is contracted to do.  But the private  management of the courts themselves has also been referred to the serious fraud office (SFO), according to the press yesterday.  Apparently G4S had a 25 year contract to run Manchester magistrates’ court and a five year contract to manage the maintenance of all the court building across the Midlands, Wales and the North of England.  On winning the contract in 2011 G4S announced that it was “worth around £35 million annually but also offers the potential for up to £25 million in project work each year”.   In the House of Commons this week  the Lord Chancellor Chris Grayling referred to “serious issues relating to invoicing, delivery and performance reporting” in these G4S contracts.  We will see if this results in SFO action, but meanwhile I wonder if this debacle has changed thinking in the Ministry of Justice about privatising all court buildings?  The MoJ has never actually said they are considering this but an article in the Times and a statement from the Senior Judiciary and the Lord Chancellor definitely implies privatisation of buildings, though not of courts administration itself.  Lets turn away from national contracts. I have long advocated local control of magistrates’ courts.  This would put administration and maintenance in the hands of local people and local staff.  They may or may not choose to put maintenance services out to tender, but the contract would be local and more easily scrutinised and monitored.