TV licence and road tax offences to be dealt with out of court
PUBLISHED July 13, 2012
Anyone who evades the payment but does not contest the case will be dealt with by a single JP sitting in a community centre or police station, rather than having to go before the bench at a magistrates' court.
Police will also be given the power to prosecute many low-level crimes including motoring offences, rather than handing them over to the Crown Prosecution Service if the defendant fails to plead guilty by post or turn up to court.
The plans were set out in the new White Paper, Swift and Sure Justice, which states that 215,000 cases heard in magistrates' courts in 2011 were about evasion of the TV licence fee or Vehicle Excise Duty. Of the total 1.56million defendants proceeded against, 550,000 were accused of minor driving offences.
"We believe that too often these cases take up more court time than they should," the document states.
Launching the White Paper on Friday, Nick Herbert, the Criminal Justice and Policing Minister, accused courts of being "opaque and impenetrable" and of caring more about criminals than their victims.
Introducing new projects to hear evidence via video-link, open courts at weekends and use digital files rather than paper, he said that a Lithuanian lorry driver caught drink-driving recently had his licence taken away just two hours after being charged.
However some raised concerns over the cost of the proposals, at a time of widespread budget cuts.
Richard Atkinson, chairman of the Law Society's criminal law committee, said: "We are concerned by the Government's obsession with speed and its apparent belief that speed and efficiency is one and the same thing.
"In particular, we question whether there is any need for weekend courts at a time when the numbers of criminal cases are declining and when these proposals will cause problems for prisons and the availability of other professionals in the system."
Max Hill, QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, added: "We are particularly concerned about the increased presumption that cases will be run in the Magistrates' Courts based purely on the financial value of the case.
"This is a blunt instrument which may not properly reflect the severity of the offence, and demonstrates the Government's commitment to cheap justice."
Meanwhile the supervision of offenders in London has been handed over to a private security for the first time.
Serco and the London Probation Trust won the contract to run "community payback" schemes across the capital in a move intended to save £2m.
The union Napo said it spelled "the end of probation" and would mean job cuts and more re-offending.