Skip to main content

Magistrates: Standards

Volume 487: debated on Tuesday 27 January 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what steps he has taken to monitor the level of compliance of (a) magistrates, (b) HM Courts Service fines officers and (c) bailiff companies with the national standards for enforcement agents on vulnerable situations. (250926)

The National Standards for Enforcement Agents are intended for use by enforcement agents rather than magistrates or Her Majesty's Courts Service fines officers. However both magistrates and Her Majesty's Courts Service fines officers routinely consider the circumstances of defendants and defaulters as part of their decision-making process. Where issues of vulnerability are made known to them, these will be taken into account.

Her Majesty's Court Service contracts place a specific obligation on its private enforcement agents in respect of vulnerable members of society. This requires them to adhere to and implement these standards while engaged on enforcement activities on behalf of Her Majesty's Courts Service. They are instructed not to take any action to levy distress without prior reference to the court where the individual falls into one of categories deemed as vulnerable. Complaints by members of the public about the conduct of the contractor must be reported to Her Majesty's Courts Service regional contract managers, together with details of how those complaints have been dealt with and resolved. These are reviewed as part of the contract management process.

The contract requires AEAs to provide a monthly management report to HMCS regional contractor managers on contractor performance. The report provides details on the execution rate of warrants, training undertaken by contractor staff and any complaints received by the contractor on action taken by their staff. Contractors must report any circumstances and situations where a complaint or issue is raised by defaulters who consider the enforcement of the warrant has been undertaken inappropriately or incorrectly. These will include any situations involving those in the vulnerable person categories., Any complaints or correspondence received by contractors must be investigated. In addition Her Majesty's Court Service regional management will investigate the complaint to determine that the bailiff took the correct action or if the situation requires further investigation.

Further reporting protocols in new proposed contracts will strengthen the control and monitoring arrangements available to HMCS on contractor performance. This includes quarterly and six-month assurance reporting. There is also a requirement for each contractor to make an annual operation report reviewing their management of the contract. Combined, these reports form the basis for the HMCS Director of Enforcement to make an annual report covering the operation of all regional contracts.

The reports received as the six month and yearly stages of the contract would be reviewed and reported on to the HMCS Compliance and Enforcement and main HMCS Management Boards as part of this report. It is expected that the contractor will detail its procedures and processes and the agreed authorisation methods with each HMCS region and area within these reporting requirements.