Justice crisis deepens as security staff vote to go on strike

·3-min read
Southwark Crown Court, London. Picture date: Monday June 21, 2021. (PA Archive)
Southwark Crown Court, London. Picture date: Monday June 21, 2021. (PA Archive)

Court security staff have voted to go on strike in a row over pay, in the latest blow to Britain’s beleaguered justice system.

Members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) Union backed industrial action in a ballot of members, with the results announced on Wednesday.

The union said a offer from the OCS Group, which has the HM Courts and Tribunal Service contract for security at courts around England and Wales, has been rejected, and would have seen workers paid “just 27p an hour above the national minimum wage of £9.50”.

“The vote was 96 per cent in favour of action on a 61 per cent turnout”, the union said in a statement.

“We are also demanding, among other things, a £500 one-off payment, full occupational sick pay from day one, an additional day’s annual leave, and paid time off for medical appointments.”

It is understood extra staff have been hired to mitigate the effects of the strike, and HMCTS is not expecting any courts will have to close.

A HMCTS spokesperson said: “Minimal disruption is expected from this proposed action and we continue to work closely with OCS to maintain the safety of all court users.”

The announcement of strike action, which could see courts having to shut down without sufficient security staff, comes as criminal barristers are into their third week of walkouts.

Barristers are taking action over legal aid rates, with four days of action this week and walkouts expected for the whole of next week.

At a rally outside the Supreme Court on Monday, Criminal Bar Association (CBA) chairman Jo Sidhu QC said: “What is happening to our criminal justice system is nothing short of a scandal.

“It is the result of neglect by government over many years. The consequence of that neglect is that victims, defendants and, yes, barristers who work within the criminal courts have all been put to one side as if they don’t exist – because for government they are not important.”

The CBA is demanding an increase of at least 25 per cent to legal aid fees, to help stem the exodus of lawyers from the criminal justice field.

The Ministry of Justice, which says it has offered a 15 per cent fee increase, is under pressure to resolve the crisis before Parliament goes into recess at the end of next week, amid widespread disruption and delays to the criminal justice system.

Solicitors have joined barristers in protests outside crown courts for the last three weeks, and are considering taking their own industrial action.

The London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association told members last week: “Without urgent investment it may not be economically viable for many firms to sign the new legal aid contract  creating advice deserts and further delays in justice for victims."

Meanwhile, court staff in the magistrates courts are also being balloted by the PCS Union over the possibility of going on strike over a new digital case system – the Common Platform - which is being introduced.

The union has called the system “fundamentally unfit for purpose” and is calling for the rollout to be paused, with a ballot of its members on industrial action opening today.

A date has not yet been set for the PCS Union security staff strike action.

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