Friday, May 06, 2005

New Government

As a magistrate I have no political opinions. As a citizen I do.

I am committed to playing my small part in improving the criminal justice system, so here is my non-party-political wishlist for the next few years:-

Above all: give us a break from legislation. There has been an avalanche of reforms in the organisation of the courts and in the law. Such a vast edifice as the legal system needs to be reformed gradually, allowing time for changes to be tested and considered before moving on to the next new idea. Senior legal professionals whom I meet on a regular basis are more or less unanimous that much recent law was passed too quickly after inadequate debate, and that time is needed for reflection and amendment where necessary.

The administration of the courts has been in continuous change for most of the last decade. A breathing space is now needed to allow the new arrangements to settle down. Now that all court staff are civil servants the judiciary needs to defend its independence from the tick-the-box mentality of the administrators. Give us time to do that.

The Crown Prosecution Service is led by good people but they are let down every day by stupid administrative errors. Only last week I was asked to issue a witness summons in a domestic violence case. The witness first indicated that she was reluctant to come to court last January, but the CPS only asked for the summons in the first week of May for a trial due to start in the second week of May. There is now almost no chance that the trial will go ahead, which will cause great expense and inconvenience, and there is no justice in that. Get the basic admin. right, and soon.

Save money if you must, but make sure that probation and drug treatment services are properly funded. In the long run that will save a fortune, and reduce the tide of misery that washes through our courts every day.

Finally, trust the courts. The tabloids will never be satisfied but there are at least four years before the next election. Don't legislate every time that the Daily Mail gets into a panic; judges magistrates and staff in the system are citizens who have real lives too, and they will be better employed fine tuning the law than in struggling to understand some half-cocked reform.

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