Magistrates should use online crime maps ahead of sentencing
PUBLISHED May 5, 2012
The Magistrates' Association wants to use new technology such as Facebook and Twitter to publicise results of court cases as well.
It has also repeated its call for JPs to be given the power to sentence criminals for up to a year, double the current maximum length, and to pay victims compensation immediately.
The recommendations are made in a new report on the future of the magistracy, which has dealt with lower levels offences for more than 650 years and which relies on 26,000 volunteers to deliver justice.
It proposes: "The magistracy must be the foundation of the community focussed justice system. It must become more active, accessible and engaged through strengthening and more clearly defining its roles and responsibilities."
One of the new ideas is to use the information made available by police forces about types and numbers of offences committed in individual streets, in online crime maps.
The report says this "allows the prosecution to draw the attention of a sentencing bench to the offence pattern in a specific location", and the "cheap and effective tool" would unlikely be challenged by defence solicitors.
John Fassenfelt, chairman of the Magistrates' Association, said: "If you have an individual that's drunk and disorderly in a high street, if there's a lot of that in the area you may take that into consideration.
"It may be an aggravating factor if an individual comes into an area where they think they can get drunk, and you may perhaps increase the penalty."
The report also recommends greater use of technology in "making sentencing decisions available electronically", and Mr Fassenfelt said there was no reason why this could not include posting the information on Facebook pages or Twitter.
Currently offenders can be ordered to pay their victims compensation but this can be done in small instalments over a number of months.
The study says a national fund should be established to pay victims immediately and in full.
In many cases criminals are given a fine or a caution instead of going to court, and so no compensation order is made and victims are often not told the result of the case.
The Magistrates Association wants to have oversight of out-of-court disposals and says victims should be told of the result and have the right to ask for compensation to be paid, in order to increase confidence in the system.
It wants magistrates to make prison visits and see how community sentences are carried out in person, and also use "court houses for a range of community activities".
JPs should also be more diverse to represent the communities they serve better, the report says, it is "still seen by many as the preserve of white middle class professionals".