Magistrates should sit in police stations, report says

A blue lamp outside the St John's Wood police station, in London

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The government should allow magistrates to dispense on-the-spot justice inside police stations at peak times, a report by a right-leaning think tank has said.

Policy Exchange said magistrates should sit during evenings and weekends, as part of a set of proposals to speed up the judicial system.

It also suggested recruiting 10,000 new magistrates while closing more courts.

Justice minister Damian Green said the government was "looking at the role of magistrates".

It comes as Her Majesty's Court and Tribunals Service faces a requirement to cut its budget by 37.8% between 2012 and 2016.

'Weakens' punishment

The report says there are now more magistrates' courts in England and Wales than accident and emergency departments - 230 and 180 respectively.

However, the paper - titled Future Courts - says there is nevertheless a "two-month delay" from the time an offender is charged to when they are sentenced by magistrates.

Start Quote

Magistrates are the cornerstone of our justice system - their local knowledge and unique skills make them an extremely valuable part of our judicial process”

End Quote Damian Green Justice minister

It says the delay "weakens the power of punishments and means that the system does little to change the behaviour of offenders".

Instead, courts could be closed or merged, with magistrates on hand inside police stations and other community buildings to pass sentences "on-the-spot".

New "justice hubs", or larger courthouses with up to 50 courtrooms, could be built to serve major population areas, the think tank also suggests.

And it recommends measures to encourage younger, professional people to apply to be magistrates.

Max Chambers, author of the report, 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."

'Maximise their role'

The justice minister said there were a "number of interesting ideas" in the report.

Mr Green said: "Magistrates are the cornerstone of our justice system. Their 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."

Richard Monkhouse, chairman of the Magistrates' Association, said the report mirrored many of the suggestions it had made three years ago.

However, he added: "One of the problems with having courts in police stations is public perception. Are the public going to believe that open and transparent justice is being served by having an apparent collusion between police and magistrates?

"We have no problem with the speed element at all, except that defendants need to know what their rights are, they need to be aware of the implications of the court case, so they need to have preparation and doing it that quickly may actually interfere with that."

On the subject of travelling magistrates, he agreed that authorities had to "think outside the box that is the courtroom" but he raised concerns about how that would work in rural areas.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 631.

    Didn't we just downsize a load of police stations? Place police inside other public buildings? Certainly has been the case in the home counties. So where would we put these magistrates?
    Nice idea but may need some work on the details - 4/10!

  • rate this

    Comment number 630.

    More of the same as the last 20 years.
    Less freedom, more surveillence, video cameras, GATSO, databases, removal of civil rights, removal of infrastructure required to regain civil rights.
    Bliar was the worst, but Broon and Cameron are guilty too. Now it's also illegal to organise a protest on social media -you'll be done for incitement to riot. A riot though is what's needed to restore balance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 629.

    And what problem is this meant to solve? It seems rather too trivial to turn the system upside down. Much clearer are the problems this suggestion would cause. I want to consult a lawyer-delay. Magistrates to accept that their entire life is secondary to their job. Really?Hosts of new magistrates getting things wrong? Great. They need to think before promoting bad ideas-it taints all else they say

  • rate this

    Comment number 628.

    Time to merge the magistrate and the police, its time for Judge Dredd!

  • rate this

    Comment number 627.

    Funny how all the liberals manage to pipe up at the merest sound of justice.

    If people don't want to be subject to justice in any form, no matter how quick, on the spot or summary, then don't commit a crime worthy of it in the first place. Its not hard to understand is it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 626.

    602. Go about your business, free time or leisure in a lawful way and what is the problem. I have seen loads of comments on here comparing our system to Ukraine and other such oligarchical systems, all about as thoughtless as yours. We live generally in a law abiding democratic society. 610. The policeman lied about being there. 614. Yes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 625.

    Well the way the Government were talking previously on crime would suggest we have very little of it and we would not be looking at increasing the police but making redundancies. Now they need more magistrates even though there is less crime hmmm I feel somebody is telling pokies somewhere.

  • rate this

    Comment number 624.

    This all sounds like a good idea so long as it’s fair to both the defendant and society. My worry would be that we will end up with a lot of appeals.

  • rate this

    Comment number 623.

    Shame the think tank couldn't come up with ideas about consistently enforcing the criminal law - either there is a Fraud Act 2006 or there isn't - far as I'm aware there is - so, why hasn't it been enforced?

  • rate this

    Comment number 622.

    Magistrates at night, and at the weekend? It's difficult enough to find good men and women, to sit as Magistrates, without requiring them to perform their voluntary duties in unsocial hours.
    Why not just outsource the Magistrates' Courts to G4S (other private security companies are available)?
    Problem solved!

  • rate this

    Comment number 621.

    617 Frostie

    Good point well presented!

  • rate this

    Comment number 620.

    Why not go the whole hog and declare anyone arrested guilty until proved innocent?

  • Comment number 619.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 618.

    Perhaps when someone finds my nearest police staion they would let me know where it is. The four nearest to my home have all closed down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 617.

    @576.Major Tom

    "Whilst that is indeed science fiction, perhaps if we just introduce a programme of systematic sterilisation for all criminals then a group of future criminals may never exist?"

    Yeah - then there'd be no MP's, newspaper editors, etc etc.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 616.

    599. Andrew
    People: the authors of this nonsense, Policy Exchange, are not "the Government"
    Sadly the job of a 'think tank' is to pursue an agenda by suggesting things politicians might not wish to, but might just 'catch hold of'. It's called lobbying. They could of course just write to their MP but a press 'max-out' is far more beneficial to a minority cause

  • rate this

    Comment number 615.

    Who is going to fund all the inevitable appeals?

  • rate this

    Comment number 614.

    I can't be the only one who read the first paragraph and immediately thought: 'Judge Dread...' Can I?

  • rate this

    Comment number 613.

    I think there are certainly times when simple cases are dealt with months later for no real reason. Someone kicked the wing mirror of my car, all caught on CCTV. No doubt at all in who did it and the police arrested the same day on that evidence. It was months before it was heard by a magistrate. In this case i see no reason for it being delayed. Compensation arrived 9 years later!

  • rate this

    Comment number 612.

    And the social engineering to kill all forms of access to justice.

    Don't having family, employment, housing, debt or welfare problems because legal aid has been curtailed in those areas.

    Now don't go out in the evenings risking bother and facing an expensive evening paying for your solicitor and the Judge Dredd summary justice.

    And forget appealing against controversial developments.


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