Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Magistrates ~ Justice Committee Report

The House of Commons Justice Committee has published its report on The Role of the Magistracy.

The Ministry of Justice and senior judiciary must, as a matter of priority, develop an over-arching strategy for the magistracy, says a report by the Justice Committee. This should include workforce planning, magistrates' training and the wider promotion of their role, especially to employers. It should also take into account the impact of court closures, and consider whether the role of magistrates could be expanded, in particular within any proposals for problem-solving courts.

The report supports increasing magistrates’ sentencing powers to 12 months’ custody and recommends that the Ministry of Justice provide a timetable for implementation. This recommendation has been welcomed by the Magistrates' Association.  It is further recommended that the new Allocation Guideline be given time to bed down and the Sentencing Council be given an opportunity to review its impact and that the Ministry of Justice publish any modelling of the potential impact of increased sentencing powers on the prison population.

Whether this recommendation will be accepted by the government remains to be seen.  There is a view that it is likely to result in greater numbers being sentenced to short terms of imprisonment.   It would seem unwise to simply increase the powers without addressing the associated problem of legal aid for representation.  Other matters examined by the committee's report will also need to be addressed including the training offered to JPs (and, in particular, those who act as Court Chair) and the respective roles of District Judges (Magistrates' Courts)and JPs.

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