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More magistrates could speed up justice system

To speed up the criminal justice system, 10,000 new magistrates should be appointed, think tank Policy Exchange has recommended.

Its new report, Future Courts, suggests that magistrates should be responsible for dispensing summary justice inside police stations, including out-of-court disposals and police cautions at peak times.

There is currently a two-month delay from the time an offender is charged to when they are sentenced in a magistrate’s court.

Magistrates’ role should be expanded to review offender sentences on an ongoing basis, and to spend a third of their time involved in voluntary community engagement work. New training could see a specialist group of 500 ‘problem solving’ magistrates to deal with drug and alcohol addicts.

A more diverse group of people should be encouraged to become magistrates, with policies launched to specifically target younger people and people from ethnic minorities.

Max Chambers, author of the report and head of crime and justice at Policy Exchange, said: “There is no good reason for our criminal justice system to operate in such a leisurely fashion. Police courts would mean much swifter justice for low-level crime, reflecting the fact that if a punishment is to be meaningful and actually change behaviour, it has to be delivered very quickly. Putting magistrates in police stations will also bring much greater oversight to the use of cautions, about which there has been legitimate public concern.” 

“As budgets are reduced dramatically, the courts system will inevitably have to change. Fewer buildings will be part of the solution, but government must take care to protect the local justice landscape, underpinned by volunteer magistrates, that has served us so well for hundreds of years.”

The justice minister, Damian Green, said: “[Magistrate’s] local knowledge and unique skills make them an extremely valuable part of our judicial process.

“We are already looking at the role of magistrates and starting to explore ways to maximise their role within the criminal justice system, there are a number of interesting ideas in this report that we will consider as part of our ongoing work.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below, or email us directly at [email protected]


Graham Beale Cllr   07/03/2014 at 20:29

Has the lifting of the age of current JP's been considered as an immediate improvement to numbers available. I understand 70 is the present limit, but with the vast experience these people already have they must surely be a great advantage for all concerned.

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