Court closures, staff numbers slashed and JPs 'walking away': Ministers are putting cost-cutting before justice, say magistrates

  • Richard Monkhouse, chairman of Magistrates' Association in England and Wales, claimed whole courts system is ‘sinking’
  • He claimed magistrates were told by Courts & Tribunals Service not to ‘engage’ with adult defendants to find out more about their background before passing sentence

By Martin Beckford

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Richard Monkhouse, chairman of the 23,000-strong Magistrates' Association in England and Wales, said courts were being closed and staff numbers were being 'decimated'

Richard Monkhouse, chairman of the 23,000-strong Magistrates' Association in England and Wales, said courts were being closed and staff numbers were being 'decimated'

A magistrates' leader has claimed the whole courts system is ‘sinking’ and has accused Ministers of being more interested in cutting costs than seeing justice.

Richard Monkhouse, chairman of the 23,000-strong Magistrates’ Association in England and Wales, said courts were being closed, staff numbers were being ‘decimated’ and JPs themselves were ‘walking away’.

Mr Monkhouse claimed magistrates had even been told by the Courts & Tribunals Service not to ‘engage’ with adult defendants to find out more about their background before passing sentence.

In an article for Independent Monitor, a magazine for prison watchdogs, he explained: ‘The thought is a five-minute conversation with an offender is going to multiply up into extra days’ sittings.’

Mr Monkhouse pointed out that colleagues in youth courts were encouraged to talk to defendants.

‘By what logic  does an offender reach the age of 18 and suddenly be excluded?’ he asked.

A magistrate for more than  a decade, Mr Monkhouse said that discussions could lead  to the disclosure of issues  such as substance abuse or homelessness.

However, courtrooms ‘increasingly are focused more towards cost  and efficiency than justice’.

Since Coalition cuts took hold, 89 magistrates courts across England and Wales have closed, along with 48 county courts used for civil cases.

Ministers believe the move will save £99million over a decade.

 

HM Courts & Tribunals Service denied magistrates were being prevented from talking to defendants.

A spokesman said: ‘We fully support effective judicial engagement with offenders in both youth and adult courts.

‘It is entirely a matter for the magistrates as to how a particular hearing is managed.’

A magistrates' leader has claimed the whole courts system is 'sinking' and has accused Ministers of being more interested in cutting costs than seeing justice (file picture)

The magistrates' leader has claimed the whole courts system is 'sinking' and has accused Ministers of being more interested in cutting costs than seeing justice (file picture)

The comments below have not been moderated.

The whole magistrates system is nothing more than a Tory party networking syndicate for the the well-to-do middle class clique.

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You really have no idea of the magistrate selection process!

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To lost in France, France: I fully realise selection has nothing to do with party politics but by the very nature of the position being unpaid and requiring weekday office hours attendance a rather large proportion of those on the bench are not from ordinary working class manual backgrounds. Some are, a lot aren't. What's more there is a far greater tendency among "amateur" magistrates to believe the word of police officers than that found among judges in the higher courts. Maybe not conservative with a capital c but certainly a small one.

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"You have been a naughty boy, don't do it again", "off you go sonny,suspended sentence for you", the words that mean ministry of justice jobs are pointless and have no relevance in today's thug society,inadequate deterrents are no deterrent at all

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I never understood what an oxymoron was till I discovered the phrase "The Ministry Of Justice".

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Could you please explain the meaning of the word "Justice" >>>in our Judicial System today Please

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But the court system was quite prepared to spend £300K on "Plebgate", which amounted to nothing more than mild name calling? Work that one out!

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I don't think the court system has yet spent a penny on it. Media and police have, but so far just one man has been charged and will then pass thru the sytem of justice we have and media will have an old beano - as will lawyers

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I'd recommend that anyone who can afford to gives the Magistrates' Court a wide berth. Not fit for purpose.

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Engaging with defendants is why magistrates are so lenient.. they believe the sob stories! Let me judge them, I know what I'll do but struggle to decide which penal colony they should be sent to!

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Costs before justcie? You mean like the motorist is treated??? No justice for the motorist, just pay the fine!!

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But we're back in non-joined up government land. For a court to work efficiently, all parties and paperwork need to be present and correct. How many trials have been delayed because defendents haven't turned up, probation reports haven't been produced, lawyers haven't been briefed, evidence has been lost, translators not available? But the government think nothing of privatising prisons and prisoner transport, privatising the probation service, decimating legal aid and the police service, and privatising translation services. In all of these areas cost cutting and profit seeking replace public service and co-operation. The result? In a court service already facing cuts, a difficult task is being made unnecessarily more difficult!

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Fabulous, if we carry on in this spirit, soon we may be able to reduce taxes, thereby, wealth creating free enterprise businesses may begin to thrive and the unaccountable, well off, tax payer funded,entitled leeches, will begin to reduce in numbers, which will result in a self sustainable, competitive and healthy economy,

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