Tuesday, March 01, 2005

All Change!

I have spent this evening going through piles of documents trying to put them in some kind of order. I shall have to go shopping for some files tomorrow, and I need to clear a bookshelf to make room for them. There are those that I need to study further and there are those that I need to have near to hand. I am struggling to keep up with these piles of stuff.

There has been a blizzard of legislation and a frenzy of reorganisation in recent years, and things are about to reach a critical stage.

Much of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 is about to be implemented. This makes far-reaching changes to the rules of evidence, introduces a new case-management structure and allows the bad character of defendants and witnesses to be put to the court It also introduces a whole new sentencing framework. The stated aim is to 'rebalance' the system. What that means is to reduce the inconvenient number of not guilty verdicts that juries and magistrates persist in finding. Judges and magistrates have been trained in the new procedures, many of which will go live on April 1st. Prosecution defence and police have all had to be trained too.

The National Offender Management Service has been set up to put prison and probation services into the same organisation, driving the final nail into the coffin of the traditional Probation Officer's role of being a kind of social worker. Now it's all about control and supervision.

In London the Authority that was set up five years ago to run the capital's magistrates' courts will die unlamented at the end of March and Her Majesty's Courts Service will take over London's courts, along with all of the other courts in the country, be they Magistrates' County or Crown Courts.

Every region will now have a plethora of new bodies with varying degrees of power, giving rise to an enormous number of new and impenetrable acronyms. The Chairman of my Bench now has well over fifty meetings to attend each year in addition to training, pastoral duty, and of course sitting in court.

The only certainty is that there will be crimes committed on the 31st of March, and that magistrates will have to deal with them on the 1st of April. Fingers crossed!

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