By Tamara Cohen
Bouncers have been given legal powers to issues on-the-spot fines for anti-social behaviour.
Magistrates are incensed about the scheme which gives nightclub doormen police-style powers to patrol the streets.
More than 1,400 people across England and Wales have been accredited to hand out instant fines for offences from drinking in an illegal area to disorder, harrassment, flyposting and dog fouling.
The Magistrates Association which represents 30,000 officials is understood to have lodged a formal protest about the scheme to Justice Secretary Jack Straw.
The Home Office insists all individuals given these powers are highly-vetted ‘community figures’ including neighbourhood wardens, parking attendants and security guards.
A Norwich-based firm, EventGuard, is the latest to acquire the power of instant fines for 25 of its bouncers.to help the local police tackle antisocial behaviour. It manages crowds and traffic at high-profile events such as the Royal Norfolk Show but also undertakes ‘door supervision’.
The accredited individuals have access to the Police National Computer and are required to use it to check a person’s previous convictions before issuing an on-the-spot fine.
If the person has a criminal record already, the police must be called and the matter dealt with through the courts.
The unprecedented powers, which have prompted fears about abuse of confidential data, are granted under the Police Reform Act 2002 to organisations that are deemed to contribute towards community safety.
Individuals must undergo training and wear an approved badge and uniform. The number of accredited individuals has soared from just 945 in 2005 to 1,406 last year.
Magistrates have criticised what has been described as a ‘third tier’ police force below trained police officers and controversial community support officers or ‘Blunkett’s bobbies’.
The Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Stamer QC this week controversially backed out-of-court penalties saying it would help ease the workload for courts. On the spot fines and conditional cautions are now handed out to half of all 1.4 million offenders dealt with in a year.
But John Howson, deputy chairman of the Magistrates Association expressed deep unease about the scheme.
He told The Times: ‘Our concern is that here we have essentially a third tier police force that is now inclduing security guards and door supervisors. We don’t think it appropriate for these people to have that access.’