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.

My Photo
Location: Near London, United Kingdom

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

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Cuts Yes - But Not Here

The BBC has run a largely sympathetic report on a genteel protest staged at Kingston courthouse today by the local bench and local politicians and staff. Inevitably the Chairman of the Bench made a reasoned plea for local justice to stay in Kingston, but I fear that battle is lost already. Sandra Aston of HMCS, whom I have worked with in recent years, made the point that the Kingston court is under-utilised and has poor facilities. In addition, it is one of the few court properties that is not owned outright, but rather leased from the Royal Borough in which it stands. That makes a tempting target for managers desperate to cut costs while keeping the show on the road.
The consultation put out by HMCS gives detail of the whys and wherefores of proposed closures, and much of it is hard to challenge, in view of the need to save vast sums of money. There are courts in charming old buildings that are just too small and insecure to have a future (eg Acton and Harrow). Some have too few cells to handle a busy remand list, some have an overhang of neglected maintenance. The fact that a few are listed doesn't help.
Yes, it's all right for me, as my court is not on the list, but that would be too simplistic a gibe. For the summary courts' system to have a secure future all of us who are involved, salaried or volunteers, will have to be positive, flexible, and look to the future.
Muddling along will no longer do in the new austere court system. Most JPs are now well aware of the need for robust and positive case management, and we are increasingly intolerant of poor performance from our own ranks and from the agencies who appear before us and provide our administrative backup. There is no reason why a lay bench should be significantly less efficient than a District Judge, other than in seriously knotty points of law, and there are strong arguments in favour of the quality of justice that is delivered by well-trained and well-motivated citizen volunteers who have access to quality legal advice, as we do. But that does mean that we need to be firm with colleagues who don't really get it, and show them by example what good practice looks like. Those who are not with us, may need to be shown by the magistrate-led appraisal system that they must shape up or ship out.
So well done to Kingston for a first-class job of putting their case firmly but politely before the public, but don't let your hopes run away with you. By the year-end you will know that your bench will be merged with two neighbouring ones, and you will be doing the same job with some different people in a different venue a few miles away from Kingston. That's when we all need to give our best efforts to delivering an even better quality of justice with limited resources. If any magistrate doesn't fancy that, do you have a better idea? The status quo is not an option.