Thursday, January 16, 2014

Numbers Game

This report deals with the well-known fact that the lay Bench has shrunk by some 20% in recent years. That will surprise no one, since the pressure to close some courts and maximise throughput in the rest has resulted in a near-freeze on recruitment. The latter fact will, in the medium term, serve to consolidate the iron grip of the over-50s on the Bench. The current business climate is making it harder and harder for employees to get time off to act as JPs (even firefighters are under pressure to limit their sittings).
Nevertheless, I do not (quite) subscribe to the conspiracy theory that lay justices are being eased out in favour of DJs. Recruitment to the paid judiciary is also at a low level , and although the balance is changing a little, that may be due to the cost and difficulty of cutting back on DJs other than by limited recruitment.
The real threat to JPs is that some genius will come up with an idea to bring in courts that are a low-fat version of what we have now, to deal with simple cases, such as TV licensing and the rest. I am sufficiently close to retirement not to be worried about that personally, but I cannot escape the thought that my generation have had the best of it.

Here are some numbers


  1. Join the industrial "Old Gits". I and my ex colleagues discuss this occasionally and always agree that we had the best and the current generation will never be as well off (well being, environment and all forms of wealth) as we were and are.

  2. In ten years time the justice system will be far removed from the setup today. Courts will probably be two rooms, one the court and a waiting room, located in shopping centres and consist of one judge, to use the term loosely, who will hear such low level case as speeding and TV license evasion. He/She will just read the documentation and pass judgement - with probably no appeal for this type of offence - and issue the fine and whatever else is available then. Justice will be swift and inexpensive to administer. There will probably be a new type of judge who is not much more than a clerk, as the law will change to reduce the need for evidence for minor offences.

  3. Many other places have long since done away with the volunteer branch of the judiciary. They keep the load down on the judges that remain by making many of those low-level things that you handle in magistrates' courts administrative matters which are time-consuming, difficult, and expensive to appeal.

  4. Those figures don't look right. It appears that the lay magistrate bench costs include a legal advisor but the DJ one doesn't. In my area at least DJs sit with legal advisors so their costs should be included.

  5. The orders from above are that DJ's in the future will generally not have Legal Advisors any more, but this is an evolution and will happen over time.

    If someone comes up with a better system and it's cheaper etc as it must be before any Govt would consider it, then so be it. There is no reason why the Mags Ct or anyother should remain unchanged- look when they got rifd of the Quater Sessions and Assizes.

    What will be will be- no matter how much anyone currently dislikes it.

  6. Am I reading the figures correctly?

    Cost of Magistrates Court: £32 per hour.
    Cost of DJ Court: £92 per hour.

    If the idea of reducing lay justices in favour of DJs was implemented, the costs would considerably increase.

  7. Alas Anon, not quite. A recent study on JPs v DJs found that although we look cheaper we are not due to the time we take, inconsistent decisions, and above all poor case management and that results in cracked trials etc. Advocates take longer to prepare for us. We are not cheaper when it comes to outcomes. And here is the problem...and that's why the present system is broken and the age thing comes in. You can't sit the minimum and be competent, at least as a chairman, in case management or even guiding on sentences, indeed on so many areas we are now meant to know about. You might in a half-day court with few cases but not in an urban court with a long list over a full day. Things have changed. You can't just sit there. And yet all too often wingers don't even open bench it is not clear what we are meant to be. If we want younger people, and we do, and working people, (and I am one) then perhaps the time has come for chairmen to sit more and then wingers might sit less with more onus on the chairman...I don't know. But without a proper appraisal system or mandatory training - how effective we are is open to question. There are many very very good magistrates who do things supremely well but perhaps the system needs a good look at.

  8. Anon @ Jan 19th puts his/her finger on it. The magistracy must change if it is to survive - the present widespread freeze on recruitment will age the bench unacceptably, But there is no guidance or thought from any political party, any think tank, or from the magistracy itself. I am retired Chairman. When I was active I tried to get the MoJ interested in a number of ideas without success. To give you some idea: there are fewer court buildings so why not send JPs out from their base courts to sit in outlying districts and thus keep closer to the public (any old room would suffice), let chairmen sit alone starting with simple courts like traffic, do away with the maximum sittings rule (let that be decided locally by the Bench Chairman), let Bench Chairmen have greater control of leave of absence, introduce a certificate of magisterial attainment (awarded nationally to national criteria) as a prerequiste for sitting alone on all except trials. I had a load of other suugestions - many no doubt daft - but all ignored. Perhaps the only way forward is a Royal Commission on the magistracy. Come on the Association how about pushing for such a Commission.

  9. Agree, Anonymous 16.01 19/01. Have spent many years researching magistrates' courts and have seen a variety of courts at work but the long tail of mediocre JPs and not-so-good legal advisers grows longer. Once I might have supported the continuation of the system of JPs but grow ever more doubtful.

  10. Anon 19th Jan makes some interesting points but I don't agree. Cracked trials are not necessarily due to bad case management by JPs. We had 2 this week out of 3 listed. One was a domestic violence case where, as so often happens, the victim and only witness failed to turn up (for the 2nd time) despite 3 visits to her address by the Police, the last on the morning of the trial. The other was a benefit fraud case where the CPS chose to use an agent and he only received the 300 page file that morning. There was no way either trial could go ahead in the interests of justice. A DJ could not have done anything else.

    The suggestion about chairmen sitting more and wingers less ignores the fact that today's wingers are tomorrow's chairmen. How are they to learn if they sit less?

  11. Another abuse of the word "victim" - the witness in a DV case is the "complainant", please.

    More to the point, if the complainant does not appear first time we should not be too ready to adjourn. We certainly should not if the defendant is in custody unless we can bail him. Even if he is on bail he is probably imposing on some friend or relation and it is rarely going to be fair to expect his host to continue.

    If she does not turn up and has not started civil or divorce proceedings to keep him out of the house, we should dismiss the charge and leave them to get on with their lives. It was all wrong when the police spoke of "only a domestic" and it is equally wrong to treat "domestics" as doubly serious and obviously true.

  12. Anon 25th...of course, magistrates are not always at fault, in fact, fault is the wrong term. My point is, and I'm not sure how active your bench are in case management, that if a bench is active in the procss and does not go with calling every witness and time-tabing the time (and this is what DJs do ) then the time is better used and it short cuts issues. The criticism is that we don't do the administration work well. As for wingers developing, again, wholly agree, but there just isn't enough work. If chairmen are sitting once a month in a traffic court it is hard to see how competent they will be unless they will be if they are working with their bench to actively manage the administration of the day. There is just too much to understand now. Things have moved on and the criticism in the recent report is that we just have not moved on as well. We don't seem very open to criticism....


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