Skip to main content

Tribunal Security Order 2014

Volume 752: debated on Monday 10 February 2014

Motion to Consider

Moved by Lord Faulks

That the Grand Committee do consider the Tribunal Security Order 2014.

Relevant document: 19th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Faulks) (Con): My Lords, the purpose of this order is to provide that tribunal security officers at tribunal venues have powers consistent with those already available to court security officers throughout England and Wales. By way of background, the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (Commencement No. 16) Order 2013 brought into force Section 148 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, which contains a power for the Lord Chancellor to make an order allowing for the designation of tribunal security officers and to apply to tribunals the provisions in Part 4 of the Courts Act 2003 relating to court security.

The current security presence at Crown Courts, county courts and magistrates’ courts enables court business to be carried on without interference or delay, maintains order and secures the safety of any person in the court building, including members of the judiciary, staff, professionals and other court users. Court security officers have specific powers, provided by the Courts Act 2003, to enable them to discharge their duties. These include: the power to search any individual attempting to enter, or already on, the premises, including any baggage et cetera in their possession; the powers to request the surrender of any article or, where the request is refused, to seize it, with specific regulations in relation to knives; and the power to remove, exclude or restrain a person who is in a court building. In addition, the Courts Act 2003 provides that it is a criminal offence to assault or obstruct a court security officer in the execution of their duties.

The current security guarding provision differs greatly across tribunal venues, and has no statutory backing. The provision ranges from general administrative roles to patrolling the premises. The order before us will enable the consistent management of all risks, recognition of the exposure some tribunals face due to a lack of security, and direct action to ensure that incidents are kept to a minimum and, when they do arise, are dealt with effectively.

Ensuring the smooth running of the administration of justice in tribunal venues is important. The Government, therefore, seek to expand the powers of the present court security contingent to cover tribunal venues and hearing centres throughout England and Wales. I commend the draft order to the Committee and I beg to move.

My Lords, this is a perfectly sensible change to the rules to provide for security on tribunal premises. I do not expect the Minister to be able to answer the one or two questions I have immediately, but it would be interesting to know whether there is a record of any significant incidents in which the presence of a security officer with these powers would have made a difference. It would be interesting to know how many problems have arisen or are arising, and how that compares with the other courts. That said, it is clearly sensible to have these provisions. However, can the Minister say how the Government intend to proceed in terms of the employment of such staff? Will they be seeking to contract this operation out, like so much else of the administration of justice, to contractors such as G4S and Serco? Or will it be done, as it were, in-house?

Secondly, will they, in any event, ensure that staff employed on this important task are paid at least a living wage? I fear that people may be employed on part-time, minimum-wage conditions. Given the nature of the job, that would be entirely unjustified. It would be helpful to know, if not now then subsequently, what the Government’s attitude would be, whether it is providing the services directly or contracting them out. Subject to these observations, I very much endorse the regulations.

Contrary to his expectation, I think I can answer some of the questions posed by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham.

In the reporting period from April 2013 to 31 December 2013, a total of 75 security incidents were reported from tribunal venues and hearing centres. Those incidents are classified in a number of ways. Examples include verbal abuse, verbal threats and unauthorised access through to security systems or loss of ID. I do not have any further breakdown, but I hope that gives the noble Lord at least some idea of the scale. I also do not have information comparing that with security incidents at courts, but it can be seen that it is a substantial potential threat, and the noble Lord has been good enough to acknowledge that it is appropriate to make this change. Of course, it was not possible under the 2003 Act until the Tribunals Service was brought within the overall control of the Courts Service.

I turn to the questions around employment. Important pre-employment checks will be made on contractors—and there will be independent contractors—to assess their suitability to work within the organisation. I am instructed that the guards will be provided by G4S and Mitie. Some tribunal venues and hearing centres are covered by the PRIME contract. The contract has input from the Department for Work and Pensions and is managed by a private organisation, Telereal Trillium. The guards will be supplied to these sites by G4S or Mitie depending on their geographical location, and the template seen across the court sites will be used to manage security within tribunal venues and hearing centres.

As part of the employment process, the relevant contractor will undertake pre-employment checks to assess applicants’ suitability to work within their organisation, including obtaining references, interviews and so on. Before designation—the word apparently used in this context—HMCTS undertakes further suitability checks to confirm the identity of the individual. Checks are made of disclosure and barring service certificates, and an assessment is made of the appropriate level of training required. The assessment of this suitability is part of the designation process, with assurances going to the Lord Chancellor. As part of the application process, all potential designates must hold a current Security Industry Authority licence and have completed training on conflict management and physical intervention. There is also continuing monitoring of employees’ ability, but I will not provide all the details now.

I noticed that the noble Lord’s eyebrows were raised slightly by the reference to G4S. He may be thinking back to the question of electronic monitoring and tagging. The tagging contract is not linked to the provision of security on court sites; rather, it is managed by a separate department within G4S. I hope that that provides some assurance for the noble Lord.

Will the noble Lord respond to the questions about the conditions of the staff in terms of earnings, zero hour contracts and so on?

I am grateful to the noble Lord for reminding me about the question of the living wage. I do not have any details on the precise wages, but I will write to him.

Motion agreed.

Sitting suspended.