The criminal justice system could be speeded up if the magistracy was expanded and JPs were allowed to deal with cases at police stations and oversee cautions, a thinktank has suggested.
Outlining proposals to reform summary justice, a report from centre-right thinktank, Policy Exchange, suggests magistrates should dispense justice inside police stations at peak times – including evenings and weekends.
The report Future Courts says that putting magistrates in police stations would allow them to oversee or directly administer out-of-court disposals such as simple cautions and reduce delays.
There is, according to the report, currently a two-month delay from the time an offender is charged by the police to the sentence being handed down in a magistrates’ court. It also notes the public concern about the police’s use of these disposals, which now account for 20% of all criminal cases.
The report calls for a massive expansion in the size of the magistracy, recruiting 10,000 new magistrates, to enable them to perform the expanded roles, which would also include reviewing sentences and ‘community engagement’ work.
There are currently 23,000 magistrates who preside over 90% of all criminal cases in England and Wales, but a recruitment freeze has been in place reducing their numbers.
Instead of automatic retirement at 70, the report suggests the introduction of a 10-year ‘tenure period’, creating greater turnover, and policies to specifically target younger and more ethnically diverse recruits.
The report also recommends that the Ministry of Justice, the Judicial College and the Magistrates’ Association devise a training package for 500 or so ‘problem-solving’ magistrates and judges, specialising in dealing with people with drug and alcohol addiction.
The report’s author, Policy Exchange’s head of crime and justice Max Chambers, said the criminal justice system operates in a ‘leisurely fashion’ which needs to change as budgets are cut.
He praised the work done by ‘invaluable and underused’ volunteer magistrates. They are, he said, not something that should be ‘inadvertently lost, or apathetically discarded’.
Rather, he suggested, the way forward for the court system is an expanded role for a ‘new and more diverse’ set of magistrates that ‘drives greater court innovation, injects more dynamism and energy into judicial culture, and delivers a more creative and effective response to local crime problems’.
Chairman of Magistrates’ Association Richard Monkhouse said: ‘Three years ago the Magistrates’ Association celebrated 650 years of the magistracy and looked into the future. We proposed some positive suggestions about how magistrates could become more active, accessible and engaged.’
He added: ‘This report from Policy Exchange mirrors many of our suggestions and we are pleased to see that there is a wider view that much greater use can and should be made of magistrates.’