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Courts Service: Annual Report and Accounts

Volume 694: debated on Tuesday 24 July 2007

My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I have today laid before Parliament the 2006-07 annual report and accounts for Her Majesty's Courts Service.

Her Majesty's Courts Service has been in operation for two years, and during that period it has made huge strides forward in the service it delivers to the public.

The agency has a clear strategic goal, which is that all citizens are entitled to access justice, whether as victims of crime, defendants accused of crimes, consumers in debt, children in need of care or business people in commercial disputes, as quickly as possible. This access should be provided at the lowest cost consistent with open justice so that citizens have confidence in, and respect for, the system of justice.

Over the past year, the courts have seen great change and have achieved much in conjunction with their partners. Significant progress has been made in protecting the vulnerable by tackling domestic violence through both criminal and civil courts, and victims and witnesses protected through better case management and improved safety arrangements. Justice is also being provided in other ways, such as mediation in both civil and family cases so disputes are resolved faster and in less adversarial ways.

During the year, a blueprint for delivering simple, speedy, summary justice in magistrates’ courts was launched to reduce delay and make better use of every hearing. In the pilot areas where this was tested, the impact has been very positive, with a large reduction in the time taken between first hearing and trial and an increase in guilty pleas at first hearing and in those pleading guilty being sentenced at first hearing.

A similar focus on community justice dealing with the specific concerns of local residents has been successful, leading to a decision to introduce it across 11 new areas over the coming year.

The courts have continued with much success to address the challenge of maintaining and improving performance whilst meeting the requirement faced by all government departments to work within tight financial constraints.

The report highlights these and other achievements by the agency and looks to the future to sustain the momentum and pace of change. It has made a public commitment to deliver a palpable step change, a breakthrough in the public's experience of the justice system.

Copies of the report have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. It is also available on the Courts Service website at www.hmcourts-service.gov.uk.