Today I am taking the unusual step in copying below a complete page from today`s Law Society Gazette detailing changes in magistrates courts. These changes as indicated in the article, as readers will find, are a direct result of Tory governments cutting and slashing funds to our justice system over the last decade. Of course the official statement is that the Covid 19 epidemic has been the cause but nobody remotely concerned with our courts system will echo that because as insiders we know really what has been happening. The very essence of our summary justice is a bench of three. I know only too well that if that number is reduced there is too much scope for one opinion to ride roughshod over another especially with an imbalance of experience between the two and or personality profiles which might appear when there is reduced discussion. It will be very inconvenient for witnesses and/or defendants with family arrangements to be in a courtroom at 8.00pm or longer. And finally there seems to be an assumption that lawyers will be unnecessary. All the above criticism will of course be denied. EXCUSES, EXCUSES, EXCUSES.Need I say more?
"HM Courts & Tribunals Service has revealed that it will introduce evening courts to bring down the backlog of cases in the magistrates’ court.
In a webinar discussing HMCTS’s crime recovery plan yesterday, deputy director Jason Latham said HMCTS was in the ‘final stages’ of identifying how to roll out evening sessions, which would run from 5pm-8pm, Monday to Friday.
Latham said the evening sessions would hear cases requiring minimal involvement from a legal representative.
Saturday courts will also be extended. Earlier this week the Ministry of Justice said magistrates’ courts were seeing the number of outstanding cases fall – dealing with around 21,000 cases a week against a pre-Covid baseline of 33,853. Latham said 90 additional sessions were currently running in the magistrates’ court every Saturday.
To bring down the backlog of Crown court cases, Covid-19 operating hours are being tested at Liverpool, Hull, Stafford, Snaresbrook, Portsmouth and Reading crown courts.
Asked about the potential discriminatory impact of Covid-19 operating hours, Latham said: ‘We recognise this could have different types of impact on different types of users, particularly legal professionals. But it has been designed in a way, by the working group, so that provisions are in place for legal professionals in advance of a listed hearing date to request that it be moved, whether it is because of practical issues or issues such as where they have caring responsibilities.’
Latham added that the Covid-19 operating hours had been ‘designed in a way so people do not have to work longer hours. There is a choice of different sitting patterns available to them’.
Around 360 people tuned into HMCTS’s webinar where officials were also asked about empty courtrooms.
Delivery director Gill Hague said courtrooms might look empty but they were empty for a reason. She said they might be required for jury retiring or jury assembly arrangements, or they might not be being used because social distancing requirements cannot be achieved.
On why HMCTS was regularly sitting benches of two magistrates, not the usual three, attendees were told this was due to being able to maintain social distancing requirements not just in court but also ‘everything back of house’, such as the deliberation room and shared facilities."