The Government is to introduce a criminal justice white paper later this week that, according to the Guardian, will recommend the future regularisation of extended, flexible opening hours for magistrates’ courts.
Extended court hours were first introduced as a temporary measure in the aftermath of the 2011 riots, in order to process the large number of offenders more quickly. However, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) would like to see the practice of courts working through the night and at week-ends become the norm.
The Government has already introduced a pilot scheme in England and Wales based on experience gained through dealing with rioters.
While weekend trials began in Durham in June, magistrates’ courts in Cardiff introduced working hours between 8am and 6pm, and hearings by video-link when defendants are not present.
Additionally, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has announced that a flexible court scheme will be put into operation around the Olympics.
A spokesperson for the MoJ told the Guardian: “We are working with local areas to test whether a more flexible criminal justice system is able to better respond to the needs of the public, including victims and witnesses.
“We are working with all criminal justice agencies to iron out any issues which arise as a result of the pilots, in order to create the most effective system for local communities.”
The white paper will be presented by Nick Herbert, the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, and the Guardian reports that further proposals could include magistrates sitting on their own to deal with cases involving guilty pleas, and magistrates working out of police stations or community centres.
However, concerns have been raised by magistrates and solicitors, concerning judicial independence and workload respectively. In addition, the CPS has said it would rely on ‘volunteers’ to prosecute at week-ends.
These proposed changes have not made much splash in the media so far; however, maybe the public should be concerned that ‘swift’ justice does not have priority over thoroughness in determining the facts of a case, and any mitigating or aggravating factors that should be taken into consideration before sentencing.