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Magistrates Courts (Delays)

Volume 201: debated on Tuesday 14 January 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what measures he is taking to reduce delays in proceedings in magistrates courts.

The problem of delays is a complex one which needs to be tackled in a variety of ways and which requires the active co-operation of all criminal justice agencies. Amonst the measures recently taken or now in hand to bring about reduction in delays are

  • the introduction of powers to enable magistrates courts to remand for up to 28 days, which should reduce unnecessary court hearings and encourage effective case management; a major programme of training, arranged by the Home Office in conjunction with the magistrates courts service, directed to helping court clerks to develop practical clerking skills and a proactive approach to the management of court business;
  • the issue in July 1991 of best practice guidance on listing of cases, supplementing earlier guidance on the best use of court clerk time;
  • the encouragement and monitoring of pre-trial reviews on an experimental basis in selected magistrates' courts;
  • action to follow up the report of the working group on pre-trial issues, as announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General on 11 November, in which the magistrates courts service will be asked to play its full part;
  • the start of direct data exchange between magistrates courts and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, to be extended in due course to all magistrates courts, which should reduce the time needed to obtain licensing information as well as reducing handling costs;
  • the development of national targets for improvements in performance, as part of the development of the magistrates courts management information system.
These are all important initiatives which we hope will contribute to speedier and more effective local justice.