Talks aim to end probation dispute

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The Independent Online
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GOVERNMENT negotiators last night began informal talks to end a week-old campaign of industrial action by probation officers which is threatening to halt Home Office law and order reforms.

Probation officers are refusing to operate tough new community penalties introduced as alternatives to imprisonment in the Criminal Justice Act, which came into force on 1 October. As a result defendants are leaving court with soft sentences because probation officers will not supervise the harsh 'combined punishment in the community orders' brought in by the Act.

The dispute with the National Association of Probation Officers could become politically embarrassing for Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, adding fuel to criticisms of the Act from policemen and magistrates. The Association of Chief Police Officers complained recently that the deterrent effect of punishment was being reduced.

A Home Office spokeswoman yesterday played down the dispute. 'Disruption has been very minimal,' she said.

Napo took action after a claim for a 7 per cent rise above inflation to compensate for extra duties brought in by the new criminal justice system was rejected. The employers - the 55 probation committees of England and Wales, which receive 80 per cent of their money from the Government - offered inflation plus 0.25 per cent.