Saturday, 10 October 2015

Time to rethink courts?


The Police & Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire is moaning about plans to close magistrates courts in Wakefield and Halifax with the 'business' transferred to Bradford:

“I disagree with these planned closures. Victims and witnesses come first, but by reducing the number of courts available you reduce their access to local justice.

“Going to court can be a difficult experience for victims and witnesses. If the courts in Calderdale and Wakefield close, where would a victim or witness local to those buildings go? A trip to Bradford, Leeds or Huddersfield could be expensive and time consuming and put people off going through the criminal justice system.

I rather get Mark's point. Expecting witnesses to spend time and money travelling across the county may put a few off (although most of the business of these courts is taken up with stuff that doesn't involve a lot of witnesses other than those from authorities - motoring offences, council tax non-payment, TV licensing and so forth). But the answer is to consider whether to rethink how we organise our courts.

Instead of travelling all the way to Bradford, why not set up video suites in local police stations, council offices or even a shop on the high street. And then use skype or similar for witnesses to present evidence. After this we can replace all the presenting of documents, all that rushing about to no real purpose that junior barristers do, and a whole load of process that clogs up the current system, with on-line systems. There's no real reason why we need to get three magistrates, a clerk, a policeman and the accused into one place just to decide on the evidence and issue (or not issue) a fine.

Finally there's no reason for courts to occupy expensive town centre property when huge savings will come from moving to a shed in a business estate on the edge of town. It sometimes seems that it's only the self-importance of judges and the game of civic willy-wagging that sustains us having courts in town centres doing a thoroughly inefficient job.


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