Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Call for courts in shopping centres

Courts could be set up in shopping centres, the Magistrates' Association said

Courts could be set up in shopping centres under plans to speed up the justice system and reduce public spending, the Magistrates' Association has said.

The proposals, which will be submitted to ministers, aim to reduce the time that victims, witnesses and others spend travelling to hearings by allowing more cases to be dealt with close to where the people involved live or work.

State-of-the-art court buildings are not always needed to administer justice and empty stores in shopping centres could be used instead, with the public able to see the courts at work, the Magistrates' Association said.

John Howson, the association's deputy chairman, said the offences that tend to be dealt with by magistrates "should be dealt with as quickly as possible, as cheaply as possible and as locally as possible".

The introduction of fewer, larger courts to replace more than 100 magistrates' courts that face closure as part of a £37 million cost-cutting drive may not be the best way forward, he said.

"Centralisation may not be the only way of doing it and it may risk compromising both speed and cost effectiveness," Mr Howson said. "Pop-up courts in shopping centres would enable crime to be dealt with and punished very quickly."

He said that if a group of persistent shoplifters needed to be dealt with, bailing them to turn up at court in two weeks' time may waste time and money.

"If you have a court which is there, that they can be taken to and have their crimes dealt with quickly, that may work better," he said.

"We need to be able to get a summary crime in to court as quickly as possible. In most cases people are on bail and are low-level offenders, so they don't need a very complicated building - in most cases they don't even need cells.

"The most cost-effective way of dealing with it may not be taking them further away, it may be decentralising them. And it's in line with the coalition Government's approach of putting services as close to people as possible. It's certainly an idea worth talking about."

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