Thursday, January 10, 2013
Crystal Ball Time
From Bystander T
In line with all those investment blogs, political blogs, personal blogs and the rest, here is our take on predictions for 2013.
Prediction 1. Fewer magistrates and more District Judges (Magistrates' Court) (DJMC). So instead of most defendants appearing before a bench of three Magistrates, more will appear before a single professional DJMC. In the major conurbations, where the recruitment of Magistrates has long been a challenge, the old Stipendiary Magistrate (the old name for DJMCs) has been a well known fixture. In the more rural areas, DJMCs are now appearing more regularly. There are some very good reasons for this, particularly related to complex or lengthy cases, or those requiring consistency of handling over an extended period. But some magistrates feel uneasy with the expansion in the numbers of DJMCs believing that the mini-jury of three magistrates is a more democratic route to a finding of guilt or a passing of sentence.
Will the public understand this slow demise of the their beloved magistrates? Probably not, at least not until they are gone. When he was Lord Chancellor, Charlie Falconer said that he would not support any notion of paying magistrates, because as long as they are unpaid, they can properly be described as wholly independent; they are not beholden to the administration for fees or position. This independence is far too valuable to sacrifice so hopefully the increase in the numbers of DJMCs will be restricted to providing flexibility in the system, and no more.
Prediction number 2. A case will arrive at the appeal court related to a magistrates court refusing an adjournment. Old lags who believe that they can turn up at court and simply deny an offence and say no more, are now being rudely awakened. Anyone accused of an offence, pleading not guilty, must assist the court in managing the case and therefore must divulge which parts of the prosecution they want to challenge. But in the pursuit of the holy grail of "stopping delay", some poor wretch is bound to get caught up in the chase and suffer an injustice. The sooner this matter gets a clear and public lead from the higher courts, the better. The "greater good" undoubtedly demands better case management, shorter waiting times and shorter trials, but along the way it is hoped that few, if any, individuals suffer for it.
Number 3. More a hope than a prediction! More joined up government will emerge. In the ever present "Cost cutting" environment, it seems that nobody notices that on many occasions the cutting exercised by the courts costs more for CPS; savings achieved at CPS costs more for police; savings made by the Police, costs more for the court; saving planned on escort services, taking prisoners from court to prison and vice versa, costs more for the court, the police and the CPS.
Perhaps our reader might like to bring to our attention any evidence that these predictions have been realised, or not, as the case may be.