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Tuesday, 22 June 2010

More Magistrates Courts, not fewer

The reported measure to close around 150 of the nation's 350 Magistrates Courts is simply crazy.

Under Labour, they have gone from the cheap, local and highly efficient disposers of petty justice to bloated, inefficient arms of the Central State. The answer to this is not to close them, but to liberate them. A bench of unpaid JPs sitting in a small town court building, perhaps just the courtroom, two or three offices / retiring rooms, a couple of cells, is a local institution dating back into the very infancy of this Realm, and it's worked very well. It's also cheap. A qualified Clerk and a couple of admin staff perhaps. How much cheaper can you get?

The point about Magistrates Courts above all is that they were right in the middle of things, highly visible and the people dispensing justice were local figures. In my youth I recall there being courts at Woodbridge, Stowmarket, two in Ipswich - one for the town, one for the Orwell valley - and in every small market town in the County, sometimes sitting in the Guildhall or Market Hall, very public and very transparent.

This government's move to take the CPS out of most cases that Magistrates dispose of is entirely good - let's go back to the police presenting cases. Let's also restore the licensing functions to these courts, as it's entirely proper that the people who deal with the fall-out of licensed premises also deal with their licensing in the first place. And let's glory in their bloody-minded independence, under Clerks of wisdom and experience. Above all, let's have them back at their 1970s level - local courts, run for local people by local people.

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