Saturday, 28 August 2010

Justice Buses are not the answer to court closures ....

The Guardian 27th August carried an article "Justice buses are not the answer to court closures".  Ideas such as "courts" sitting in shopping centres and on converted buses have been popping up recently.  For many practical reasons, this is most unlikely to happen.  As a cost-saving exercise, the number of magistrates' courts in England and Wales will be reduced over the next 18 months to 2 years.  The consequence will be that summary justice will be less locally administered for many people.  Victims and witnesses will have to travel further and go to unfamiliar places to give their evidence.  Possibly, even the Police may end up being less keen to prosecute cases if officers have to be away from their base attending a distant court.

The article's author (Jon Robins) wrote - "There is also a question over the volunteer army of magistrates which has played such a fundamental part in the justice system, many of whom are about to be made homeless. Ken Clarke's glib comments that the locality of the courts depended on "how far it was reasonable for a man to ride a horse" suggest that he will not be overly troubled by abstract arguments in favour of local justice.

It is ironic that as justices of the peace contemplate their 650th anniversary next year, they face the greatest threat to their existence in living memory. They will have to make the case that they have a role outside their soon-to-be closed courthouses, hence the talk from the Magistrates Association of justice buses and supermarket courts. It is going to be a challenge."

Personally, I do not see that either the Magistrates Association nor individual magistrates need to make any case for a "role outside their soon-to-be-closed courthouses".  Why should they?  The responsibility for the demise of local justice - (by which I mean locally administered justice) - ought to rest with those Ministers who are advocating the cuts.  Is this a case of government knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing?  I would be interested in views on the vital topics of court closures and local justice.  These changes are likely to affect all of us eventually.

See Ministry of Justice for more details of specific proposals to close local courts.
See also CharonQC - "Law Review: an even more daft idea from a magistrate"


  1. Bonjour Obiter J - A risible idea, indeed. What do they put in the coffee at some of the courts?

  2. I completely agree with Obiter.It looks to me like the only people bothered by the impending demise of the lay magistracy are the magistrates themselves.

  3. I don't quite see an "impending demise" of the lay magistracy but the number of court building closures is very considerable. I do not have precise figures available but the proposed reduction is something over 100 out of some 350 - (for England and Wales). Some are the "smaller" courts and therefore have fewer magistrates. As far as I know, those lay magistrates who continue to wish to serve at a new court will be accommodated. However, for how long such a process of absorption can continue is a moot point.

    Personally, I am a supporter of the lay magistracy but I do not support stupid ideas like "justice buses" and shopping precinct courts.