Criminal justice is an area where policymakers see a problem that is not there – and then set about solving it with gusto. As we report, the latest bogus bete noire is the apparent inflexibility of magistrates courts’ sitting hours.
The pilot schemes for weekend sittings seem to be a reaction to the volume of cases immediately arising from last summer’s riots. Even if one leaves aside the fact that, last August, the courts opened late and at the weekend to deal with alleged rioters, should it not be axiomatic that only a very small part of any system is permanently calibrated to deal with extraordinary events?
The context here is that, in general, the police are not charging enough people to justify the extended hours proposed. It seems strange then to insist, for court staff, magistrates and lawyers involved, upon an increase in the number of anti-social hours worked, and to suggest that the latter should not be entitled to compensation for their flexibility.
If the courts are to be run on a permanent crisis footing, upon what reserves are all concerned to draw when a real emergency arises? In a repeat of the riots, it would be a physically and financially depleted group of professionals, officials and magistrates who met the challenge.
Surely a better use of policymakers’ time would be to apply their interventionist instincts to ensuring that civil strife on the scale of 9 August 2011 does not recur.