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Courts Act 2003


7.At present there are separate arrangements for the management of the courts in England and Wales. The Court Service is responsible for the operation of the Supreme Court (comprising the Court of Appeal, the High Court of Justice – including the Probate Service - and the Crown Court), county courts and a number of tribunals. It is an executive agency (Next Steps Agency) of the Department for Constitutional Affairs and has no autonomous legal existence. Its responsibilities and powers are defined solely by internal documents (most importantly its framework document). A Chief Executive, who is accountable to the Lord Chancellor and through him to Parliament, heads the Court Service. The Permanent Secretary of the Department for Constitutional Affairs remains the Principal Accounting Officer.

8.The Crown Court and county courts are organised for administrative purposes into 6 circuits and 18 groups. A Circuit Administrator heads each circuit. Below circuit level, Group Managers are responsible for the Crown Court centres and county courts within their areas. Group boundaries are aligned to the 42 criminal justice system (CJS) areas. Court Service employees are civil servants. MCCs (established under Part 3 of the Justices of the Peace Act 1997 (JPA 1997)) are responsible for the efficient and effective administration of the magistrates’ courts within their areas. They are bodies corporate whose members consist primarily of local lay magistrates and persons co-opted by the committee or appointed by the Lord Chancellor. The body responsible for the magistrates’ courts in the greater London area is known as the Greater London Magistrates’ Courts Authority (GLMCA). The 42 MCC areas are aligned with the CJS areas, as are the areas covered by other criminal justice agencies.

9.MCCs receive 80% of their funding directly from the Department for Constitutional Affairs; the remaining 20% comes from local authorities. Local authorities are required to provide accommodation, goods, services, salaries and other expenses necessary for the proper functioning of magistrates’ courts and MCCs. The GLMCA owns its own estate and is its own paying authority i.e. it is not funded through local authorities. MCCs employ staff on such terms as they think fit.

10.The Auld Review recommended that a single centrally funded agency, as part of the Lord Chancellor’s Department (now the Department for Constitutional Affairs), should replace the Court Service and the MCCs. In the White Paper Justice for All the Government accepted the recommendation for a single courts organisation and stated that an agency would have a strong local dimension and would “deliver decentralised management and local accountability within a national framework of standards and strategy direction”.

11.The Act does not set out a blueprint for the new agency, which will be designed in line with the Principles of Public Service Reform (published in ‘Principles into Practice’ by the Prime Minister’s Office of Public Services Reform, March 2002). Although a centrally funded organisation directly accountable to the Lord Chancellor, the new agency will have a strong local dimension. The Act provides for the establishment of courts boards, composed of people who understand the administration of the courts and others who can represent local interests in the area for which the board is responsible. They will include at least two lay magistrates and one judge.

12.The purpose of the boards is to ensure that the administration of the courts is focussed on the needs of court users and the local community more generally.

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