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 871.

    The law generally is becoming a procedure rather an instrument of democracy.

    The increased use of cautions, cuts in legal aid, reduced use of committals, and restrictions on jury trail are not primarily intended as an attack on justice but are meant to save money by making outcomes a process rather than a discovery.

    Similar changes are afoot in civil law.

    Justice however must suffer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 870.

    Foolish cutting of legal aid has cut any chance of justice warnings have been issued to the gov will remain unchallenged causing violence.Supposed derived power to penalize benefit claimants have caused social breakdown and corruption within government and blind people excluded from the criminal justice system. Targets to criminally try civil servants is the only way to stem the tide in corruption

  • Comment number 869.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 868.

    So a right wing think tank set up by Michael Gove and Francis Maude amongst other Tories wants to speed up convictions.

    Yet the delay on getting Brookes to trial has been deliberately delayed so that the public's outrage would have calmed in the last three years.

    This is about setting and collecting immediate fines to boost treasury coffers. It is not about justice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 867.

    The assumption that the Police get it right every time & that "justice on the spot" is the ideal way forward is laughable.
    Loads of totally innocent people are placed "under investigation" for 30 - 360 days or longer.
    They end up having to prove they're innocent. That's not justice.
    I loathe bureaucracy - but I do want to see Investigating Magistrates or District Attorneys policing the Police.

  • rate this

    Comment number 866.

    The government should allow magistrates to dispense on-the-spot justice inside police stations at peak times - Totally agree! Weak justice = weak government!

  • rate this

    Comment number 865.

    Dear Minister of Justice

    An excellent idea,long overdue, it will mean huge efficiencies in evidence content, but it should also extend to the Coroners Court too

    Ex Chief Constable
    West Yorkshire Constabulary

  • rate this

    Comment number 864.

    We do not need Magistrates in Police sations. We definitely do need INVESTIGATING MAGISTRATES in a layer above the police but below the Judiciary. They should be able to examine the evidence from both sides and either support further investigation, recommend sanctions or simply halt the investigation if the accused is innocent.

    The way the police investigate crime is often dangerously flawed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 863.

    This idea would bring about more injustice as it would deny a person the right to prepare their defense to alleged offences or call upon witnesses to back up their evidence.
    This is rough justice from an out of touch government run by public schoolboy millionaires.

  • rate this

    Comment number 862.

    So let`s do away with proof, evidence and the right to a defence, just assume guilt and do away with that pesky justice thing, it costs too much anyway. Should this idea be taken up our legal system will be no better than many dictatorships.

  • rate this

    Comment number 861.

    Genius. We used to have a police station with Magisrrates Court out the back. They knocked it all down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 860.

    It's all about cutbacks again
    Is this the thin blue line?

  • rate this

    Comment number 859.

    Or we could look the other way at what we define as a crime and at what is proportionate in terms of a punishment to the action we have defined as a crime. But the Justice Hub does sound fairly cool... if it were a slick looking sky scrapper towering above the pitiful criminal masses that would probably make them fear the Justice Hub and be good.

  • rate this

    Comment number 858.

    Turning Society into one huge Open Prison might well appeal to thuggish far right ideologues and having Magistrates in Police Stations will help to achieve that. You get the Society you ask for.

  • rate this

    Comment number 857.

    Rather than magistrates presiding at police stations, could we save public money if both adjourned to their local masonic lodge?

  • rate this

    Comment number 856.

    We don't need on the spot justice, see how bad a deal we get with motoring fines etc, but we do need a more effecient legal system!

    Courts starting late, finishing early and being a mess to deal with - it needs bringing up to date!

  • rate this

    Comment number 855.

    Low level crime?

    I bet even the bankers never get in front of the beak under this change.

    What was the saying? 'It's the rich that get the pleasure and the poor that get the pain...'

  • rate this

    Comment number 854.

    A huge expense to address matters after the event. Much better to fund the Police to undertake more of a proactive and preventative role.

  • rate this

    Comment number 853.

    836 mrwobbles
    It's not where you're from, its how much you have. I rest my case.

  • rate this

    Comment number 852.

    845. rockandhardplace

    ' ... all they are saying is place magistrates inside the Police Stations to speed up the process. Nobodies rights will or can be infringed. '

    It says 'on the spot justice'. So that's no chance to challenge evidence, no chance for solicitors to get involved, no chance for a case for the defence to be prepared. Sounds like somebody's rights are being infringed to me.


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