Private firms may be given powers to arrest people

Private firms may be given new powers to arrest people in a controversial move that has raised alarm.

The proposals would allow, for the first time, staff from companies such as G4S to arrest members of the public for failing to pay fines imposed by the courts.

The plans would see HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) privatising part of its compliance and enforcement operations in a deal worth £290million.

Private security guards could get powers to arrest people for failing to pay court fines

Justice Secretary David Lidington published a controversial tender document in August

Justice Secretary David Lidington published a controversial tender document in August

The measures were slipped out as a tender by the Ministry of Justice during the summer.

Under the proposals, the Government could transfer all services carried out by Civilian Enforcement Officers, who are civil servants employed by HMCTS, to the private sector.

This would include the arrest and detention of individuals who fail to pay off their debts and haul them to court.

The courts can already allow authorised agencies, including private firms, to send bailiffs to a person’s home to seize possessions to encourage them to pay debts.

But this would potentially be a sweeping expansion of the powers – covering so-called warrants of arrest, which are issued by JPs to compel an indivual to attend court.

The tender document, published in August, said: ‘As part of this procurement exercise, MoJ would also like to explore the potential transfer of service of all warrants currently executed by Civilian Enforcement Officers.

‘Civilian Enforcement Officers are authorised to execute warrants of arrest, commitment and detention issued by a magistrate covering fines and community penalty breaches.’

Nearly 200 civil service jobs could be transferred from the civil service under the proposals. The consultation was due to end today.

Hundreds of millions of pounds in fines and fees imposed by courts on criminals have not been paid.

Sums owed by offenders in England and Wales have rocketed by almost £200million in just two years, according to official statistics.

Unpaid charges soared to £747million in the year ending September from £557million in the same period in 2014 – an increase of 34 per cent.

Some of the money will be compensation that criminals were ordered to pay their victims.

A HMCTS spokesman said: ‘We take the recovery and enforcement of court fines very seriously. Courts already have the power to issue warrants through enforcement agencies, and we have robust processes in place to ensure agency staff comply to the same standards as HMCTS staff.

‘While no decisions have been made, we are in discussion with providers to extend the work of enforcement agencies and will make further announcements in due course.’