Privatisation of The Court Service

Privatisation is a process that has become enormously important in Britain, especially since the Conservative governments of the 1980s. "It is most commonly defined as the transfer of government owned industries to the private sector implying that the predominant share of ownership of asset lies with the private shareholders" (Peacock 1985,:2). The Court Service is among the latest public services currently being considered for privatisation. "This was after a Whitehall inquiry exposed wide variation in the administration of justice across the country "(Verkaik, 2002).

However, this is in the context of much publicity about previous attempts to privatise organisations in fields such as transport, education, and the health service. In addition, there has been publicity in the media from trade unions of the risk of job losses and closure of courts. For example, the Public & Commercial Union Press Release (2001) described how the Courts Service Management have provided no guarantee with regard to job levels, in the new service, and job security for those existing staff in their new current locations.

Furthermore, the LCD(2001) described how all the executive agencies are reviewed every 5 years under guidance published by the Cabinet Office. This review may recommend certain elements of the Courts Service are privatised. To put this into context, this study will make a direct comparison between the Court Service and UK Prison Service, another service that has recently been prepared for the privatisation process, as part of an ongoing process to full privatisation. The results of the research will have 2 main uses.

One, it may provide useful information about what the Court Service staff, public and professional bodies such as lawyers, unions and other stakeholders think of the possibility of privatisation and the impact it may have on their services. Secondly, it may provide insights into the privatisation process as a whole. I intend to test the hypothesis that a significant proportion of the public will disapprove of attempts to privatise the British Court Service. To examine the extent to which the public may be hostile towards the proposed Privatisation in the British Court service.

To examine how the public may be influenced by group identities such as ages, ethnicity, economic, social class and gender. 2. 3 Examine the public's attitudes in court offices across regions and districts in London and greater London. 2. 4 To supplement this data via interviews with ' stakeholder ' i. e. Court Service staff, solicitors, and trade unions, to see if and how their views reflect those of the public. 2. 5 To relate this research project to the larger debate on privatisation in the whole of the UK. 2. 6. To draw conclusions that are academically valid, and that may provide material forfurther research.

"A critical review of this literature is necessary to help develop a thorough understanding of and insight into previous research by other authors and to previous research that relates to the research question" (Saunders, 1997,:77) In the following the literature consulted during the research is detailed as well as a description and critical analysis of what other authors have written (Jankowicz 1995 :46) The different elements have been subdivided by category. The texts are chosen because they are typical of the literature found. 

Privatisation is the attempt to move institutions from public to private ownership, governed by market forces. Graham Thomson (1990) described how the issue of privatisation came about because of the liberalisation policy of the Conservative party, from 1979 when Margaret Thatcher took office. Liberalisation is meant in the sense of 19th century free- market economics. Privatisation was not included in the Conservative election manifesto of 1979. However, the Conservative party initially began the policy of liberalisation that involved opening a whole area of the UK economy to market forces and competition.

Furthermore, this was without initially posing a threat to the ownership of all of them. It was only when the restrictions of these limited liberalisation became clear that full privatisation was adopted. According to Wiltshire (1988) among the important elements of privatisation was the perceived failure of public services to live up to the aspiration and theory of the architects. In addition to this, it was also failure to satisfy public needs, and looking after the employer welfare, achieving a high level performance and the resultant public finance drain.

Wiltshire (1998) also described four main elements of privatisation in the UK, of which number 2 will be the element chosen for research of the Court Service and Prison Service. 1. Privatisation of financial service that is still made by the public in the public sector. 2. The Privatisation of service production still financed by the public sector, that includes contracting out. 3. The de-nationalisation and load shedding which means public enterprises being sold of to the private sector. 4.

The liberalisation that can be defined as relaxing the licensing arrangement that bars private companies from entering into the market that was only supplied by the public sector. 3. 2. Privatisation Process in the UK Jillian Brown (1997), described that during the era of the Conservative party, it was their policy to privatise government assets so that the government's financial burden could be reduced; as well as benefiting through financial discipline, efficiencies and normal commercial activities. Throughout the 80's and 90's there have been several phases of privatisation.

The first stage was British Airways, the middle phase was British Gas, Powergen and National power, and the recent stages were Northern Ireland Electricity, British Energy and Railtrack. There have also been other countries that have practised privatisation such as those Eastern Europe and also North America. 3. 3 The History and pros and cons of Privatisation. The performance and public perception of state industry have differed from county to county. However, in the UK, the history is very different. Authors like Oliver Letwin(1988) identified the negative perception of state ownership in Britain.

Among the reasons are the negative industry relation records, the peculiarly insufficient concern for consumer interest and the state owned industry becoming more unpopular. Even as early as January 1951, opinion polls showed that 24 percent of the public approved of nationalisation of steel, while 54 % was against. For the next 30 years opinion polls showed nationalisation becoming more unpopular. Indeed, a survey that was carried out in 1982, showed that 60% of those interviews was more against nationalisation, and believed state owned industries were less effective than private companies. (Letwin 1998)

In relation to public service there have been several opinion polls conducted by MORI and other markets research organisations showing that the public are less keen on privatisation. According to the MORI (3/3/02), 1 in 9 voters believed that the private sector would not improve the public services. Among the Labour voters there is considerable scepticism with only 10% believing that the private sector involvement will improve the public sector. "Seamlessly as a continuation of the argument" (Jankowicz, 1995,:47) against privatisation authors like Alan Travis (2001) described in The Guardian how privatisation is a dead political force.

This compares to the popularity of the privatisation in the 80's and 90s. Furthermore, recent opinion polls conducted for The Guardian that include Conservative Party voters have shown that previous supporters of privatisation were now less keen. In addition to this, the scepticism not only crosses parties, 71% of Tories want re-nationalisation of the Rail System and to see an end to the privatisation of the Prison Service. Amongst the most vocal critics of privatisation and part privatisation have been the Public and Commercial Service Union (PCS), which is the UK's biggest Trade union.

In March 2001 PCS issued a press-release warning that the privatisation initiative will cause court closures, inefficient computerisation, replacement of service by call centre and job losses. This is typical of literature issued by public sector unions. According to Robert Verkaik (2002), many lawyers and court staff have complained that the creeping privatisation threatens the security of the Court Service. Another fear raised is the possibility that the bailiff roll in the court could soon be run by private security companies.

However, there are those who do favour privatisation saying that privatisation will bring a uniformed approach will help iron out the variation in justice throughout the country. The cash input of private finance will also help end the trend of court closures and underused courts. According to David Hencke (2001), Privatisation has not been a success in providing value for money. Indeed, the builders of private prisons have profited out of building prisons under the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). An example of this is the builders of Altcourse prison that is Britain's first privately built prison.

This will leave them with 23 years of profit from the construction side, plus additional profits coming from the running of the prison of 600 local inmates. Whereas the Prison Service has ended up with increase liabilities costing the taxpayer an extra i?? 47m with the deal expiring in 2023. Robert Bagley (2002) describes the fear of high profile escapes among prison officers after the Scottish Justice Minister Jim Wallace announced plans to hand over prison escorts to privateers. Furthermore, MEP like Tommy Sheridan recalled that privatisation of the prison officers in Britain has already lead to high profile escapes.

However, as Keith Brown described in the Financial Times (2001) private sector firms have shown enormous strength in financing, designing and contracting prisons since privatisation commenced in 1992. Furthermore, the speed and effectiveness of the private sector has been important in coping with the increase prison population. There have been other media commentators that have been more favourable towards Privatisation. The Financial Times (2001) described the high gains that are available from private funding of public enterprise (PFI). To some extent the government has responded the criticism and so have defenders.

Sir John Burn described in the Independent (2001) how privatisation has brought about value for money, in which he gave an example of National Audit Office survey. This survey that involved 400 PFI contracts worth i?? 100m found that only 4% of commercial contractors felt they had a poor relationship with the customer. In addition to this the report said that over 50% of those contacted had change their contracts since it began. Over half of those contacted said that the contracts were better value for money then usually public funded schemes.