The Magistrate's Blog (2005-2012)

This blog has migrated to www.magistratesblog.blogspot.co.uk This blog is anonymous, and Bystander's views are his and his alone. Where his views differ from the letter of the law, he will enforce the letter of the law because that is what he has sworn to do. If you think that you can identify a particular case from one of the posts you are wrong. Enough facts are changed to preserve the truth of the tale but to disguise its exact source.

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Location: Near London, United Kingdom

The blog is written by a retired JP, with over 30 years' experience on the Bench.

Friday, March 10, 2006

There May Be Trouble Ahead........

Magistrates in London have just been told officially that the budget for the Courts’ Service is to be cut by 8% next year. Under the present budgetary regime we are already struggling to cope with the massive upheavals and reorganization taking place in an agency that has not yet reached its first anniversary. By far the greatest part of the budget is for salaries, and staff at all levels are already under pressure. There is currently a pay dispute that has led to a work-to-rule among court staff, although most people seem to be working over and above their contracts when not to do so would affect justice.

For 2006-7 one pound in twelve of current funding won’t be there. Cuts in staffing will be inevitable, and courthouses will become increasingly shabby as maintenance that is already overdue is deferred further.

November will see the implementation of further parts of the 2003 Criminal Justice Act, especially those relating to Custody Plus, an entirely new way of imposing prison sentences. Magistrates’ maximum power will increase to 12 months, and complex new sentencing processes will be brought in. This will require every magistrate and judge to undergo training, along with their legal advisers. Nobody has any real idea how this will affect the number and length of prison sentences, but it is likely that quite a lot of work will move from the Crown Court to the Magistrates’ Court in response to the new powers. Nobody knows how prison and probation services will cope with their new duties. The recent history of the two services is not encouraging.

The Metropolitan Police has ambitious targets for Offenders Brought to Justice, and if they are achieved (and unless they are all given fixed penalties) there will be more offenders going through the court system.

Judges now have the power to hand down indeterminate sentences to dangerous offenders, who will not be released until they have been assessed as safe. It is a power that they have already used in some hundreds of cases. There are two ways to fill up the prisons:- send more people inside, or keep the ones you have for longer. I think that we are likely to do both. Parole boards are understandably likely to be increasingly cautious following some horrible recent cases in which early-released prisoners have gone on to commit murders soon after release. This may lead to fewer prisoners being paroled than has recently been the case. There will be a need for more prisons, but there is about a five-year lead time to get new capacity on line, even if the Chancellor comes up with the money, which is unlikely.

So we may expect more work coming into court, problems with staffing levels to cope with it, pressure on prisons, and no more money. It should be interesting.