Outcomes of magistrates’ court hearings could be monitored in a bid to tackle ‘unacceptably high’ reoffending rates, the justice minister said today in a speech on plans to reform the magistracy.
Damian Green told thinktank Policy Exchange that monitoring outcomes should be an important role for the courts. He wants to explore whether it is ‘possible and desirable’ to monitor and compare reoffending rates at magistrates’ courts.
Green (pictured) said this not would not mean ‘league tables’ but said greater transparency would help courts share information and assist in evaluating local crime strategies.
‘If you discover higher reoffending, it’s useful information that everyone can use to see why it’s happening,’ said Green.
Green wants to increase the role played by magistrates in reducing reoffending, particularly for those serving sentences of less than 12 months.
Offenders serving short custodial sentences will now be subject to supervision in the community and if they do not comply with their supervision requirements, magistrates will have powers to deal with them, including sending them to prison for up to a fortnight.
The Offender Rehabilitation Act 2014 will also give magistrates powers to deal with offenders who fail to comply with their supervision conditions after being released from custody, including committing them to prison for up to 14 days.
Green would also like to see magistrates, who deal with 94% of defendants, more involved in the review of community orders, resettlement plans for young people, and monitoring youth diversionary programmes
Green published a review of the role of the magistracy in August last year. Policy Exchange set out its vision, in ‘Future Courts’, for overhauling and expanding the magistracy.
Green said he was attracted by the thinktank’s proposals to introduce a 10-year tenure for magistrates, changes to working patterns and evening and weekend sittings. The proposals, he suggested, might boost the diversity of JPs.
The minister was also ‘struck’ by the idea of magistrates playing a role in the development of ‘local community justice infrastructures’ to enable courts and criminal justice agencies to use discretion to address local problems.
JPs, he said, should also have a greater role in scrutinising the use of out of court disposals, the use of which he is looking to tighten up.
Despite overseeing an ongoing programme of court closures, which mean magistrates have to travel further outside their local areas to sit, Green stressed the increased importance of the role played by magistrates in dispensing local justice using their local knowledge.
‘Magistrates have a distinctive role as members of the community in dispencing justice for and on behalf of that community. Magistrates can help strengthen the links between courts, communities and the wider justice system.’
He said he intends to review the selection criteria, emphasising the importance of having a ‘well-rounded knowledge and understanding’ of the social issues affecting the area in which they are applying to serve.
Stressing the value he placed on lay magistrates, Green insisted there is no plan to replace magistrates with district judges. The two, he said, bring different but equally valuable skills to the justice system.
The final reform proposals will be published in a white paper in the summer.