An American company that intended to sue the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has abandoned its plans to do so, Whitehall sources have revealed to BuzzFeed News.
In 2013, then justice secretary Chris Grayling announced plans to privatise the collection of court fines, penalties, and confiscation orders. The preferred bidder for the £675 million contract was known to be Concentrix, a Belfast-based firm owned by a US conglomerate.
However, in October last year, the current justice secretary, Michael Gove, decided to row back on the plan. Last month Private Eye magazine broke the news that Concentrix was planning to sue the government over his decision to do so, despite the fact that contracts were never signed.
Private Eye said Concentrix claimed to have "spent £8m developing plans in the belief it would secure the deal". It said the firm had believed the deal was "in the bag" until August. Back in June, Concentrix was already beginning to advertise for staff to chase people who owed the courts money.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson told BuzzFeed News: "We are pleased that this claim has been discontinued. We acted lawfully in making our decision and complied with the relevant procurement regulations.
"We believe that in-house modernisation is the best option for HM Courts and Tribunals Service and our decision will provide best value for taxpayers' money in the long run."
The decision to scrap the plan and potentially enter a legal battle was another in a series of examples of Gove reversing his predecessor's policies. In July last year Gove overturned Grayling's rules restricting the number of books a prisoner can have have, as well as plans for a giant £100 million "secure college" for teenage prisoners.
He continued to distance himself from Grayling's ideas in October when he cancelled a £5.9 million contract to advise the Saudi Arabian prison system that was described by campaigners as "grossly hypocritical". Perhaps most embarrassing for Grayling, in December Gove followed up by scrapping the mandatory criminal courts charge, a money-raising scheme that only came into force seven months earlier.
It's unclear whether Gove had any other reasons for choosing to stick with in-house court fines beyond those expressed in the ministry's statement. However, in June Concentrix hit the headlines after being criticised for sending threatening letters on behalf of Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs to people legitimately claiming tax credits.
Prior to that, in February, it was criticised for sending letters to lone parents claiming to have evidence that they were living with a partner, and asking for documents like bank statements and divorce papers if they were to keep their tax credits. Private Eye alleged the firm's record "suggested it would not baulk at using aggressive tactics against vulnerable offenders who were mentally ill, homeless or already on the breadline".
When approached by BuzzFeed News, Concentrix declined to comment.
Alan White is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Alan White at email@example.com.
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