Court security staff are to go on strike over pay, threatening fresh chaos amid ongoing walkouts by criminal barristers.
All crown and magistrates’ courts in England and Wales are guarded by security officers, who control access to buildings and carry out vital tasks including searching people and intervening in any disorder.
Workers belonging to the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) have voted for strike action after rejecting a below-inflation pay rise from government contractor OCS.
The PCS said the offer would have seen members paid 27p above the minimum wage hourly rate of £9.50.
In a ballot with a turn-out of 61 per cent, 96 per cent of members voted to strike.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “Our members are facing a cost-of-living crisis but, instead of helping them, OCS continues to offer poverty pay.
“The courts are already struggling with a large backlog of cases, and not having security officers will bring them to a standstill.”
The union is calling for 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.
PCS members working for the courts service are also to vote on strike action over the use of a “discredited” computer system.
No date for the security walkout has been set, amid continued action by the Criminal Bar Association.
Barristers are due to strike for the full working week next week, and then on alternate weeks, after escalating the action during an ongoing deadlock with the Ministry of Justice.
At least 700 crown court cases were disrupted in the first two days of action, then a further 1,000 (roughly 17 per cent) in the three days of action last week.
The effect of a four-day walkout that took place from Monday to Thursday this week has not yet been calculated.
The Ministry of Justice has blamed barristers for “delaying justice for victims”, adding: “It’s time for the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) to accept they are getting a very generous pay rise.”
But the CBA blames the government itself for creating record court backlogs by limiting sitting days, and warns that if criminal barristers keep on leaving the profession over pay, there will not be sufficient numbers for cases to be heard.
The Ministry of Justice has so far refused to budge on its offer of a 15 per cent rise in legal aid fees, which will not come into effect until September, excluding current cases and the 58,000 stuck in the crown court backlog.
Following the threat of a court challenge from the CBA, the Ministry of Justice has conceded that there is no legal barrier to it applying the increase to existing representation orders.
Members met the new justice minister, Sarah Dines, earlier this week but said barristers would continue their action “unless and until there is some substantial movement from government”.
An increase to criminal legal aid funding of “at least 15 per cent above present levels” was the core recommendation of an independent review of legal aid that was published in December.
Its author, Sir Christopher Bellamy, said the review had been announced by the government three years previously and that underlying problems had been flagged “for many years before that”.
“There is in my view no scope for further delay,” he added. The CBA said it waited 105 days for a government response to the recommendations and that several had not been adopted.
OCS has recruited additional staff to minimise disruption from the security strike, and the court service does not expect to have to close any sites.
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.”