Letter: Local justice at risk

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The Independent Online
Sir: The blueprint for a user- friendly court service ('Law Society demands a demystified court service', 8 August) proposes changes that will reduce unnecessary delays. Your article says 'The convenience of judges, magistrates and tribunals should no longer be paramount' and quotes the report as saying that 'It is usually more expensive to keep parties . . . waiting, than to keep the . . . judge, magistrate or tribunal waiting'.

From personal experience, the convenience of lay magistrates is not paramount. Delays in court are rarely, if ever, caused by JPs.

Local justice, which is surely the most user-friendly service, is fast disappearing. Small benches are being amalgamated into large, petty sessional divisions. Smaller courthouses are being closed - courts being held in larger towns. This is being done to save money. Whose? Certainly not the lay magistrates or solicitors, court users who spend more time in travelling longer distances. JPs receive an unrealistic allowance for subsistence and travel. More than 90 per cent of all court hearings are dealt with in the magisterial courts. JPs are being asked to undertake more training and 'sit' for longer hours than ever before. It is not surprising that fewer suitable people are coming forward to serve as lay magistrates.

The lay magistracy is being phased out. Local justice is being eroded from all directions. The public will suddenly find that magistrate's courts no longer have lay magistrates from their local community. They will have stipendiary magistrates. Is this what we want?

Yours sincerely,

MARY J. GLANVILL

Chard,

Somerset

8 August

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