The government has indicated that it will drop plans to open courts at weekends, instead introducing longer weekday sittings.
It also plans to achieve ‘colossal savings’ by expanding the use of video links between courts, police stations and prisons, and to continue its restorative justice and neighbourhood justice programmes.
The July 2012 ‘swift and sure justice’ white paper proposed weekend court sittings – a proposal criticised by solicitors on the grounds of cost and lack of consultation.
However Damian Green, the policing and criminal justice minister, told the Guardian newspaper (30 December) that, while there was a need for weekend courts for ‘big events’, ‘it’s likely that the most valuable flexibility will be at either end of the working day.’
Green said that courts traditionally sit for the ‘central part of the working day’, but for witnesses who work it would be more convenient to attend court at 6pm rather than 4pm.
Green also said that greater use of video links would have a ‘significant impact’ on making the court system more efficient. He said that with more video links in police stations, officers could give evidence from their notebooks and not ‘have to waste a whole shift’ attending court. ‘Repeat that across thousands of cases and you can make colossal savings,’ Green said.
Green claimed an 85% satisfaction rate from victims who have been through the restorative justice process, which places the victim at the centre of proceedings and allows offenders to meet them and apologise in person. Some 18,000 police officers have been trained in the techniques, Green said, and £1.5m earmarked for training prison officers.
Green added that the country’s 37 neighbourhood justice panels, which aim to involve victims, offenders and the local community, have dealt with 122 referrals from police officers or local authorities. He said: ‘These are not meant to replace magistrates courts. These are for offences that might otherwise be beneath the radar of the criminal justice system.’