Monday, 20 September 2010

A unified judiciary ... and why not use the local town hall ...

The government is planning to bring the tribunal judiciary in England and Wales under the overall leadership of the Lord Chief Justice.  This will be in addition to the planned merger (by 1st April 2011) of Her Majesty' Court Service and the Tribunals Service.  The aim is to have a unified judiciary encompassing the courts and tribunals.  The powers of the existing Senior President of Tribunals will transfer to the LCJ and a new office of Head of Tribunals Service will be created.  Primary legislation is required and a bill will be introduced as soon as parliamentary time is available.  See Ministry of Justice.

The Local Government Association is suggesting that town halls be hired out for use as courts.  It is claimed that this will increase the speed of justice.  See LGA and also  The Independent 18th September 2010

Cllr Mehboob Khan, chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said:

”Councils already own a number of buildings, available for community activity.  Many town hall chambers would provide the perfect setting for court hearings, with some having existing courtroom facilities.  Local authorities are well aware of the sensitivities of keeping victims and witnesses safe.  Although specialist courts are needed in some cases, in the vast majority of court cases, council buildings would be more than adequate.  It would certainly overcome the problem for rural communities and could maybe provide a boost for council budgets if hire costs were considered.”

Hardly a surprising move from cash-strapped local councils but will government pay to hire a building when the whole objective of closing down local magistrates' courts is to save money?  Historically, many magistrates' courts used to be located in town halls - e.g. Bradford, Yorkshire, Huddersfield etc. - but those courts were closed down and replaced by purpose-built magistrates' courts.

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