Labour to tackle Magistrates' decline

Ed Miliband with Banner

Proposals to introduce ‘pop-up’ courts Labour hope will solve the issues created by Grayling’s austerity measures

The criminal justice system has recently been hit hard and under Chris Grayling the Justice Minister there has been widespread cut backs. Hit particularly hard has been low-level, local justice systems, which have seen the closure of 150 magistrates' courts in the past five years. It is feared justice, especially local justice, has become remote and, to many, invisible.

Pop-up courts’ are the proposed solution and are set to be championed by Labour in the lead up to their election campaign. They will make use of civic buildings and town halls instead of dedicated court buildings meaning lower costs and a much more efficient local justice system.

‘Pop-up courts’ will deal with lower-level offences such as TV license evasion, motoring offences and other low-level disorder. It is felt that these sorts of crimes are better dealt with within the community rather than in larger city areas. The plan is to bring justice closer to the people and will mean there is less time and cost travelling to courts. Many magistrates, with increasing local court closures, have to travel far to perform their duties.

Making use of local and often un-used buildings will mean many more hearings can take place in one area. Instead of stretching larger magistrates courts beyond their limits, local hearings will enable the burden of cases to be evenly distributed across England and Wales. This would not only practically help magistrates who volunteer their time to the criminal justice system but also help victims, witnesses and families who may not want to add huge transport time and expenses to the already, often traumatic experience of appearing in court. It is felt that local buildings may prove less daunting and more accessible for reluctant witnesses and victims.

The plans are currently being discussed by government to deal with the huge onslaught of speeding fine cases, however, if Labour comes into power in 2015 the plans may be much wider-spread, dealing with a number of low-level crimes as well as some more serious crimes with no-plea entered. Sadiq Khan the shadow Justice Secretary says ‘there has been a dramatic deterioration in access to justice under this government’ in yet another clash with Grayling over the controversial cuts. He states ‘by doing this, we’d bring justice much closer to the people and revert the steady retreat of justice into the major towns and cities.’ Labour’s plans have historically favoured dealing with justice and low-level crimes within the community in which they occur rather than outsourcing work.

With the General Election drawing ever nearer it is Khan’s strong disapproval of Grayling’s strategies that may give Labour the upper hand. Grayling has become increasingly unpopular amongst the legal community; cuts to legal aid and austerity measures as well as the controversial privatisation of parts of the sector has made his time in office an often unstable one. Khan’s focus on reverting, or at least finding solutions to, some of the unpopular measures introduced by Grayling may be Labour’s secret weapon, particularly in the legal community, come the Spring.