Call to extend court opening hours

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Indy Politics

Justice minister Nick Herbert today called for magistrates' courts to be opened during the night and at weekends.

The Conservative MP said the efficiency shown by the courts in dealing with defendants charged over the August riots highlighted the benefits of extended opening hours.

He told The Sunday Times: "We need to learn from the response to the riots, where cases took days or even hours rather than the usual weeks or months.

"We saw courts sit through the night and the Magistrates' Association has pointed out that many of its lay members might prefer to work in the evenings or at weekends.

"Swift justice is currently the exception but it should be the rule."

A spokesman for HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) said it would be considering the lessons learned from the "extraordinary response" following the riots.

He said: "Magistrates' courts are always able to - and routinely deal with - a small number of serious cases, where defendants are held in police custody, within 24-48 hours of charge.

"The difference that we saw in August was the sheer numbers of people held in police custody for serious offences. It was primarily this that necessitated the 24-hour sittings.

"HMCTS will be considering lessons learned from the riots in the coming weeks, including more flexible opening hours."

Earlier this year double shift sittings were piloted at Croydon Crown Court, and officials are examining if the scheme could be extended to offer better value for money.