Ministers are to announce plans to allow magistrates to sit on their own in community centres or police stations in a bid to speed up justice. According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, the idea is to ‘put them back into the heart of communities’ and cut the average time between an offence being committed and its disposal from an average of 140 days.
It is expected that the proposals will be included in a White Paper with the theme ‘Swift, Sure Justice’ and included in today’s Queen’s Speech.
In a speech to the National Council of the Magistrates’ Association at the end of last year, the justice minister Nick Herbert said:
- ‘[There] is now a real opportunity to re-energise our entire system of summary justice, reverse the proliferation of administrative disposals over the last few years, and, in doing so, to rethink the role of the magistrate.’
- ‘Out-of-court disposals are not an acceptable way of dealing with persistent offenders. Such misuse risks undermining public confidence in our entire system of justice. And it gives rise to serious questions about the effectiveness of low-level sanctions.’
- ‘I propose a new approach to dealing with anti-social behaviour and low-level crime – ‘Neighbourhood Justice’… about reconnecting policing and the summary justice system to local communities. At present ‘Neighbourhood Justice’ has two key features. First, it is about giving local police officers greater discretion to resolve issues affecting communities quickly… . The second element of ‘Neighbourhood Justice’ is the use of ‘Neighbourhood Justice Panels’ to bring justice closer to communities. Applying principles of restorative justice, panels bring offenders face to face with their victims to agree what action should be taken to deal with anti-social behaviour and low-level crime.’
- ‘Justice must be sure if it is to command public confidence. But it is equally important for justice to be swift. The response to the riots over the summer showed us what the criminal justice system is capable of… . And yet in the normal course of events the average time between an offence being committed and disposal of a case in a magistrates’ court is 140 days…We are already looking at the possibility of more flexible court sittings – a suggestion of the Magistrates’ Association.’
Jon is editor of the Justice Gap. He is a freelance journalist. Jon's books include The First Miscarriage of Justice (Waterside Press, 2014), The Justice Gap (LAG, 2009) and People Power (Daily Telegraph/LawPack, 2008). Jon is a journalism lecturer at Winchester University and a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln. He is twice winner of the Bar Council's journalism award (2015 and 2005) and is shortlisted for this year's Criminal Justice Alliance's journalism award