PROCEEDINGS at Wigan and Leigh Magistrates’ Court were being disrupted by new industrial action this week.
Probation officers walked out at noon yesterday – joined by some criminal defence solicitors – in a two-day escalation in the dispute with the Government over fundamental changes to the criminal justice system.
Members of the National Association of Prison Officers (Napo) across the borough are angry about Government plans to privatise three quarters of the service.
Meanwhile lawyers claim that cuts to legal aid will damage the right of the less well-off to be properly and fairly represented in the courts system.
They fear that two-thirds of all firms dependent on legal aid criminal defence work will close when the cuts go through.
It is the first time they have ever staged joint industrial action.
The borough Napo branch said that probation workers don’t take strike action lightly.
But members across Wigan and Leigh were determined to use the action to “expose the track records” of the companies which have now expressed an interest in bidding to take over the running of the service under the Government controversial Transforming Rehabilitation scheme.
A spokesman for the Greater Manchester Napo said: “The Government’s plans to outsource 70 per cent of the probation service are untried and untested.
“It is a dangerous social experiment that we believe will lead to a reduction in rehabilitation and fragmented risk management.
“And one that will also place the public at risk.”
A spokesman for Wigan and Leigh Magistrates’ Court declined to comment on the effect of the walk-out on court business, or what level of backlog the strike would create.
In a statement Justice Minister Jeremy Wright said that it was very disappointing that Napo had chosen to strike when positive progress was being made towards the implementation of vital reforms.
He said: “Probation Trusts have well established contingency arrangements to deal with any potential action and we will continue to support staff and engage with unions as our reforms move forward.”