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Proposals in the Swift and Sure Justice package include those for a single magistrate to deal with low-level, uncontested cases. These include cases such as unruly behaviour, shoplifting and criminal damage offences, where the defendant has been charged with the offence by the police and a guilty plea is anticipated AND regulatory offences such as TV licences, vehicle excise duty and fare evasion (which are not contested).  This is fine for uncontested cases and provided magistrates remain robust in the regulatory matters.

Also, and at long last, the MOJ have listened to concerns over the police abuse of the fixed penalty system and giving fines for assaults and more serious matters that should go before the court.  Now the proposals are to include organising more local oversight committees,  Sadly they only have an influence over the use of fixed penalty notices. But it is a start.  Of course those unhappy with the fixed penalty can always not pay and choose to attend court. 

Retaining more cases in the magistrates’ courts (and not going to the crown court) such as theft and handling based on a value to the property involved in the offence is fine EXCEPT that 25% of criminal cases are now being dealt with by a single District Judge (magistrates court) who sits alone.  This area of justice sued to be safeguarded by a panel of three lay magistrates.  The lay magistrate system might not be perfect but at least they were totally independent and with three, the chances of a fair hearing are much greater than a single “heard it all before” district judge salaried by the state!

Swift and sure justice