Friday, February 04, 2011

All Change

Across the country work is going on to cope with the widespread programme of spending cuts, court closures, bench mergers, and staffing cuts. There is much uncertainty among HMCS admin and court staff, as it is not just inevitable that jobs go, there will be relocation and reorganisation galore. The smart money ( gossip) is on Justices' Clerks being reduced to just one per region and on a cull of higher grade legal advisers. Court sitting days might well be rationed, and work shifted around between courthouses. In reality the Clerk to the Justices vanished some years ago. The old and excellent system of the JC being appointed by a committee of JPs, and being master in his or her own fiefdom, responsible for legal and admin staff and the training of magistrates was swept away, only the job title being retained. My old Clerk used to describe his job as a cross between a family solicitor and a butler.
Benches that are due to merge are meeting at Bench Officer (chairmen and deputies) level to thrash out the details and to iron out the many variations of day to day practice. Realistically, some magistrates will have to move bench as their courthouse closes, and the rest of us will have to be flexible about taking some sittings at the other courts in the group.
Time is short. At the AGMs in October the combined benches will have to ratify the changes and elect their new bench officers, with one Chairman for the new bench, and enough deputies to ensure that there are enough to cover each courthouse. It is all feasible with goodwill and flexibility, but we are going to have to work at it.

Postscript - I have just spoken on the phone to a colleague in another part of London, and it looks like their area already has enough staff volunteering to take the money and go to avoid compulsory redundancy.

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