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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 December 2005, 18:10 GMT
Striking staff shut down courts
The strike is the first in the service's 800 year history
Around 6,000 magistrates' court staff in England and Wales have caused widespread closures after the first strike in their 800-year history.

Unions said courts were brought to a "near standstill" by the 24-hour strike - in protest at a pay offer said by the government to be worth an average 3.7%.

The strike resulted in 33 courthouses out of 350 in England and Wales closing for the day, government figures showed.

But it insisted essential services had still been delivered.

Union claims

The Prospect union, which represents 120 senior legal and managerial staff in magistrates' courts, said there had been "widespread" support for Tuesday's strike.

Unless it returns to the negotiating table with an offer that does not penalise our members, we cannot rule out further industrial action
Alan Leighton
Prospect National Secretary

Prospect national secretary Alan Leighton said: "The widespread and responsible support for this strike demonstrates the level of anger among staff.

"These are the staff behind the country's justice system, yet they are expected to put up with rough justice when it comes to pay."

He added: "We believe the Department of Constitutional Affairs (DCA) should shoulder its responsibility and rectify the failure to provide adequate funds to cover the start-up of [Her Majesty's Court Service].

"Unless it returns to the negotiating table with an offer that does not penalise our members, we cannot rule out further industrial action."

Contingency plans

The Department of Constitutional Affairs said its "robust contingency plans" meant courts had held up well across the country.

In London all essential services had been delivered but through a smaller number of courts, it said.

Custody, out of hours services, urgent family cases and those involving children at risk were not affected, it said.

The industrial action involved ushers, legal clerks and administration staff.

Workers have been offered an average 3.7% pay rise but the unions want more, the DCA said.

A DCA spokeswoman said individuals at the top of their scale would get 2.2% and those who were not - 50% of those affected - would receive 5.2%.

The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) said that the DCA were being disingenious over the presentation of the figures.

They said the 3.7% figure includes a pay deal already offered to junior staff in April 2004 and in effect is only offering to increase pay scales by 2.2%.

Staff balloted

Some 80% of 7,800 staff in the PCS voted to strike over the pay offer.

And the 120 members of Prospect were also balloted over the pay offer, with the majority supporting strike action.

Both unions have agreed a series of exemptions so as to avoid risks to public safety.

The PCS, which represents more junior workers, said members were angry about the government offer.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said 51% of administration staff working in magistrates' courts outside London earned less than 14,000 annually.


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