It is the nature of the Civil Service, as we devotees of Sir Humphrey well know, that every Department has its pet schemes that are stifled by Ministers who smell political trouble, and that these schemes re-emerge every time that Ministers change. One such is the plan to have courts sit for different hours than the customary ten-till-five Monday to Friday. You can see the attraction - better use of expensive real-estate and potentially swifter judgments. The Blair sofa produced the ill-fated and costly experiment with night courts. A long while ago we ran courts in the early evening and on Saturday mornings to deal with volume business such as traffic cases, although the explosion in the use of fixed penalty tickets more or less removed the need, and the experiment fizzled out. Following the recent changes to the courts (Magistrates' Courts handle about 95% of the business) amalgamations and court closures have finally put paid to any idea of local justice, with long distances having to be travelled by all court users as well as judiciary and staff. It's bad enough in London, where distances are not vast but traffic can be really heavy; out in the sticks, areas such as Wales have few courts, spaced far apart, linked by clogged rural roads. Get yourself nicked in Cornwall, and it's Bodmin or Truro for you, as well as for witnesses, clerks, CPS, probation, and defence lawyers and the rest.
The latest wheeze is to sit courts in Wales from 9 am to 1 pm, then with a different bench from 2 pm to 6 pm. The magistrates will have each four-hour slot counted as two half-day sittings, presumably to allow for travel time, so the minimum 26 half-days' sittings could be achieved by sitting for four hours 13 times a year- they won't get a lot of experience or build up much competence in that time.
The LoUC then kicks in with little problems such as:-
- Two benches will double mileage and subsistence costs for all court users.
- Not every case fits into a four-hour slot
- Legal advisers and court staff work a fixed week of (I think) 37 hours; there are too few of them to cover the new hours and no cash for any more.
- Prisons, probation and other agencies work to tight time slots. If their Worships in the Llareggub Magistrates' Court send someone down at ten to six in the afternoon, the contractors are unlikely to get him to the nearest prison in time to avoid the evening lock-out.
Later: Here's an interesting piece .