TRIALS are being delayed because there are not enough magistrates left to hear them, a report reveals today.
The number of the unpaid judges has plummeted by half in the past decade to just 15,000 across England and Wales, the Justice Select Committee says.
Courtroom closures, a strict retirement age of 70 and low morale have driven thousands of JPs to quit.
In almost 40,000 hearings last year, 15 per cent of the total, there were only two magistrates on the bench instead of three as required.
Senior Presiding Judge Lady Justice Macur told the MPs these shortages meant “very unfortunate” delays if the pair disagree and a new hearing has to be ordered.
“It is particularly inimical in the case of children and the cases that concern them, but it could be equally disastrous for someone who wants to have a trial disposed of and is waiting to know whether they are going to be convicted of a criminal offence that may deter them from travelling or job prospects,” she said.
Since 2010, almost half (162 out of 323) magistrates’ courts have been closed across the country, leaving the lay judges, defendants and witnesses facing long treks to the remaining buildings.
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The Ministry of Justice is in favour of “pop-up” courtrooms being used instead, and so far town halls have been used along with a coroners’ court – usually used for inquests into unexplained deaths – in Plymouth.
Ministers also want more “virtual hearings” via video links to halve the number of cases heard in traditional courtrooms to 900,000 a year.
Committee chairman Bob Neill MP said: “Magistrates and the criminal justice system as a whole have been badly let down by the failure of the Government to take action and provide appropriate funding to tackle the major issues we flagged in our 2016 report. Many of those issues remain.”
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