Friday, January 04, 2013

Bad Ideas That will Not See Out The Year (1)

Flexible court hours

In favour: 

i) Better usage of expensive buildings, allowing a few more to be sold off.
ii) More convenient times for working witnesses to attend court.

er - that's about it.


i) The main limit on court sittings is the availability and cost of legal advisers. They work a prescribed number of hours (although in practice most do a good deal more). So if they sit all day at the weekend (and I imagine that existing union agreements provide for premium rates) so logic dictates that they will have to take time off during the week - when the courts will be staffed by whom?
ii) The legal profession is digging in its heels about being asked to work weekends for no extra money.
iii) Prisons are not staffed or structured for large numbers of weekend receptions or releases.
iv) Police stations are lightly staffed overnight and cannot cope with processing prisoners for court. Even if they try, i) above will apply.
v) Contractors who deal with security and prisoner transport at courts will need premium rates to be paid.
vi) Magistrates and District Judges can only be buggered about so far.

These are just a selection of the problems. I will write about some more when I have time. 


  1. I live in a town with a population of about 80,000. Going back some years I was a witness to a crime on a Friday evening and so was taken in to give a statement. While we were taking the statement we had to get it finished ASAP as another call had come in about a fight. While they were taking me home (and then intending to attend the second event) they had another call about a disturbance in another part of the town. One of the PCs (there were only two) told me they were the only car on duty to cover the whole town until Saturday morning.

    Even then cover was sparse for a big town and I know today (from working with the local crime liaison officer) the situation is still the same.

  2. In addition to your listed arguments above, there is the fact that many defendants and witnesses see evenings/weekends as time to be in the pub, at the match or out shopping, some possibly even wanting to attend a church service, all factors that will reduce their willingness to attend.
    Should the next attempt to reform our political system bring in a prerequisite to being selected as a candidate, the possession of a functioning brain and evidence of willingness to use it?

  3. Our local court is relatively quiet, with real business (trials, diets, pleas) only occurring on 2 our of 5 possible days. However even then when there is a 'blip' in business there is no capacity within the system to add an extra day or half day on a weekday when everyone is actually around.

    " (vi) Mags and DJ's can only be buggered about so far "

    Of course you could argue that some JPs (or potential JPs) would prefer to sit outside normal court hours where it would cause the least disruption to their day job, and might open up the involvement of a wider cross section of the the population than the existing stereotypical JP.

    Some of your other points could be addressed, eg. by allowing only non-custodial cases to be heard out of hours. e.g. most road traffic stuff will never go to prison and could be feasibly heard on a late or Saturday sitting, which would be more convenient for the accused whether that is actually in the best interests of justice might be a matter for debate? On the one hand I often think the inconvenience of court cases is a better deterrent than some penalties but on the other are RTA accused likely to plead guilty to 3 pts an £60 rather than spend possible 2 days sitting in court to defend their case. Of course encouraging joe public to come to court at convenient times may reduce the number of guilty pleas which could increase the burden on the courts.

    Personally I'd welcome it - but I doubt it would result in real financial savings for the reasons you have presented. If it is about access to (or accessibility of) justice then it might be worthwhile.

  4. Very similar experiences here - except that the single car doesn't cover the town, but most of the county.

  5. Court staff do not just include the legal advisors, they include the administrative staff who prepare files, result cases and type orders and warrants, the ushers, security staff and cleaners. If you keep the courts open longer on a regular basis you would need to change their working hours as well as legal advisors. If administrative staff come in on a Saturday, unless they are working on overtime (time and a half) they would need to take the time off elsewhere in the week. Given that most courts are now running on the bare bones staff wise when will they be able the time off in lieu? Also, many staff have family and other commitments and need the weekend for them.

    Peak time for the Police is always from 3 p.m. onwards. I would rather have the Police out on the streets than stuck waiting in court at 5 or 6 p.m. for a Trial (which invariably will crack)

  6. Happy New Year to The Magistrates' Blog.

    The MoJ is now talking about longer days rather than weekends:

    The Guardian article says how impressed Ministers were with the response of the courts to the 2011 disorder. The fact is that, in that period, most Magistrates Courts dealing with disorder cases were manned by DJs(MC).

    Personally, I doubt that bodies such as CPS will wish to provide prosecutors from something like 0800 to 2200 each day. Further, as this post states, other agencies are simply not going to be manned (or funded) for additional weekend work.

    Note how The Guardian article talks of "restorative justice" and "neighbourhood justice" and points out how some 18000 Police Officers have received training in these areas. According to the article, the attendance of a magistrate at neighbourhood justice is merely "helpful" and not essential.

    Thus, the future lies in driving down further the need for cases to go into court.

  7. Just one marker.

    Any change which involves more weekend or evening work must impact all staff equally - whether or not they have dependents. Every sort of private life is of equal value; none must be privileged over another.

    Anyone disagree?

  8. Does anyone know the process by which ideas are born and matured? How many of us know of these fantastic schemes before they're made public?

  9. Surely it is a citizen's duty to assist the law and attend court to give evidence if required whether it inconveniences them or not. The government is not being altruistic in all this their goal is simply to save money. Unfortunately there are many (including some Magistrates) who have been taken in by this. @ObiterJ above has seen through this and highlighted the possible future and it is not a bright one.

  10. I don't agree with (vi); there doesn't seem to be a limit to the extent that magistrates are prepared to be buggered about.

  11. The issue about court staff working later / longer hours also applies to the legal representatives.

    And it raises the question of the quality of representation - if you have prosecutors or defence lawyers who are working longer hours, then this is likely to have an impact of the quality of the service they can provide. Also, their jobs don't solely include representation at court, but also other work (preparation, meeting clients / witnesses, preparing statements etc)

    There are only 2 ways you can realistically cover longer hours
    (1) to have a larger pool of workers
    (2) have fewer courts open/running so that the existing workforce can cover longer opening hours.

    The first seems unlikely to happen because of the extra costs, and the second might make things more convenient for some defendants and witnesses but wouldn't increase over all efficiency (and would also involve increased costs, as some, at least, of the workers involved are likely to be entitled to overtime / unsocial hours payments.

  12. Yes there could be some flexibility but I doubt there would be any major saving- probably the reverse.
    We all know that there is still a huge amount of time wasted with all sorts of cout users buggering about: Defendants unwuilling to face up to theire crime, lawyers from both sides unprepared and papers of all sorts missing, no one- especially CPS prepared to make any sort of decision. There are more unrepresented defendants - taking more time. The procedures get ever more complicated and time consuming.

    I honestly can't see the need for too much change, what would be better is refining the current system. Maybe non-imprisonable stuff and unrepresented could be dealt with in a twilight shift and of course in the main cities where there is a bit more business there could be a court available , but to spead it too widely will cost money the system does not have .

    As for trials and the more serious stuff I don't believe that longer hours etc helps many witnesses- what would help is treating witnesses properly rather than like cattle. And, coming down hard on defendants that piss the court about and plead NG just to see if the witnesses turn up. There should be something added to a sentence in those circumstances rather than really nothing happening- offenders who do this sort of trick aren't really worried about the sentence.

    It all sounds good in theory, but reality is something different!


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