In the Media

Magistrates to sit in community centres in plan to speed up justice

PUBLISHED May 8, 2012

It is hoped that the idea will put them back into the heart of communities and cut the average time between an offence being committed and its disposal from the current level of 140 days.

Under the proposed system, instead of the traditional bench of three, a single magistrate would deal with simple, uncontested cases involving a guilty plea, a newspaper reported.

The measures are backed by David Cameron and will be put forward in a White Paper with the theme "Swift, Sure Justice". They are expected to be included in the Queen's Speech, according to The Times.

The plans come after Justice Minister Nick Herbert said last year: "We need a radical rethink about how to deliver an effective system of summary justice that will involve magistrates and localise justice."

Mr Herbert wants to "reclaim summary justice for the community" and says that large numbers of simple cases of low-level offences, in which the defendant admits guilt, need not involve lawyers or go to a formal court hearing.

It is hoped that the plan will see magistrates deliver justice more flexibly and swiftly, as they did last summer while dealing with thousand of riot suspects.

Sittings would take place in varied locations including community centres and police stations as well as via live video link to cells.

Magistrates would also be encouraged to sit in a personal capacity on neighbourhood justice panels, organising restorative justice sessions in which criminals are confronted by their victims, according to The Times.

They would also supervise how non-court sanctions were applied locally and review their effectiveness. Such a scheme is being piloted in Hampshire.

John Fassenfelt, chairman of the Magistrates' Association, said: "We support these measures to make justice swifter and to put magistrates back into the heart of the community and recognise the valuable role they play in community justice."

However, he voiced concerns about the idea of magistrates sitting at police stations, saying that this might present "difficulties" about them being seen as impartial.