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Pop-up courts could be introduced for low-level cases

8th Jan 2015

Labour is considering plans to allow some court cases to be heard in local buildings in order to stop criminal justice seeming so remote.

Smaller communities have been hit hardest by the closure of over 150 magistrates’ courts in England and Wales over the last five years, a result of austerity measures, but Labour is now examining ways to compensate for this. The party is looking at ways of setting up ‘pop-up courts’ held in town halls and civic buildings across the country, in order to restore local justice.

Lower level cases that could be heard include summary motoring offences, vehicle licence duty evasion, non-payments of television licenses, and hearings where no plea is entered. Such plans are said to be more extensive than those currently being considered by the government.

Another advantage to this scheme would be that defendants and victims, along with many magistrates, would not have as far to travel, with the scheme being labelled as a ‘plan to bring justice closer to the people’. Labour’s shadow justice secretary, Sadiq Khan, stated that in many rural areas that have seen courts closed, public transport is inadequate of getting those involved with cases to court on time.

He said that it would be ‘more efficient to put town hall chambers to good use’, given that communities nationwide have perfectly good, underused chambers that sit idle for the majority of the time.

The coalition government announced in 2010 that 157 magistrates’ courts would be closed in order to save money from the Ministry of Justice; there are around 360 still operating in England and Wales. The coalition’s new criminal justice and courts bill will introduce measures that will allow single magistrates to sit on less complex cases where the defendant is pleading guilty, as opposed to the traditional bench of three Justices of the Peace.