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Access to Justice Act 1999

Execution of warrants

262.Until now, the police have been primarily responsible for arresting fine defaulters and people who breach community sentences. Increasingly, however, some police forces have given this work a low priority. The Government therefore intends to transfer responsibility for the execution of warrants from the police to the magistrates’ courts; and to enable the courts to obtain information from other Government agencies to help trace fine defaulters and those in breach of community sentences. Fines worth over £50 million were written off in 1997-98, and it is estimated that inability to trace the offender could account for as much as 30% of this total. The Government’s objective is to ensure that fines and community sentences are seen as credible and effective punishments, by ensuring that they can be effectively enforced.

263.A number of MCCs already employ civilian enforcement officers (CEOs), who work with the police under local arrangements. However, under current legislation, the powers of CEOs are unclear in certain respects. In order to enable the courts to take on this new function effectively, the Act contains provisions to clarify and extend the powers of appropriate civilians to execute certain kinds of warrant issued by a magistrates’ court.

264.The Act will make it possible for a magistrates’ court to issue a warrant in such terms that it can be executed by any constable within his own police area; any CEO employed by a prescribed authority for any area named in the warrant; any authorised employee of any company or firm authorised by the court’s own MCC, or any other individual named in the warrant, without the warrant having to specify which. While it is not intended that courts should address warrants to the CEOs of other MCCs as a matter of routine, they will be able to do so where appropriate (e.g. two MCCs might reach an agreement to enforce one another’s warrants, either in individual cases or on a continuing basis).

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