Local areas are being urged to work with the judiciary to set up the courts as part of proposals to reduce delays and focus more on serious and contested cases. This forms part of the Government’s vision for a more efficient and effective criminal justice system that meet the needs of victims, witnesses and communities.
Justice Minister Damian Green said:
“Enforcing traffic laws is hugely important for road safety, and saving lives. However these cases take nearly six months on average from offence to completion, despite the fact that over 90 per cent of cases result in a guilty plea or are proved in absence – this is simply unacceptable.
“The justice system must respond more quickly and effectively to the needs of victims, witnesses and local communities and these dedicated courts will enable magistrates to better organise their work and drive greater efficiency.”
There are around half a million summary motoring cases heard every year including speeding, traffic light and document offences. Although these offences are relatively minor they often take longer from offence to completion than much more serious cases. A task force of partners across the criminal justice system was set up to look at why this was the case and recommend how the system could be improved, to ensure the cases are dealt with both justly and efficiently.
ACPO lead for criminal justice, Chief Constable Chris Eyre said:
“We have implemented this new procedure to traffic cases with great success in nine police forces; radically simplifying and speeding up the process.
“This is only implemented when there is a guilty plea or where the case against a defendant is not contested. Effective first hearings have significantly reduced the amount of adjournments and a single court can deal with up to 160 cases a day.”
Having dedicated ‘traffic courts’ means that criminal justice agencies are able to focus their resources on fewer centres and sessions using specialist teams of prosecutors. They free-up capacity elsewhere, and reduce the time taken to deal with these cases.
The Government is discussing with judiciary, who are responsible for managing cases in the courts, how this ambition can be delivered across the country.
Notes to editors
The traffic courts are part of the Criminal Justice Strategy and Action Plan. The aim for traffic offences is by April 2014 to have delivered:
- A centralised traffic court in each police Area
- Maximum use of postal requisitions
- Maximum use of Live Links in court
- Digital cases files for all traffic proceedings
Offences dealt with in the dedicated traffic courts could include:
- Driving licence related offences
- Lighting offences
- Load offences
- Miscellaneous motoring offences (including trailer offences)
- Motorway offences (other than speeding)
- Neglect of pedestrian rights
- Neglect of traffic directions
- Noise offences
- Obstruction, waiting and parking offences
- Offences particular to motorcycles
- Speed limit offences
- Vehicle insurance offences
- Vehicle test offences
- Vehicles or parts in dangerous or defective condition
There are currently 9 Pathfinder areas where centralised courts have been trialled along with police-led prosecutions. These are:
- Met Police
- West Yorkshire
The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 specifies that the Lord Chief Justice is responsible ‘for the maintenance of appropriate arrangements for the deployment of the judiciary of England and Wales and the allocation of work within courts.’ Changes to local listing patterns are not overseen centrally. Local listing patterns are decided by the local Justices’ Issues Group (JIG), taking into account statutory time limits, directions by the Lord Chief Justice and workload changes, with a view to making the best use of resources and providing the best facilities for court users. Listing is a judicial function which is carried out on a day to day basis in the Summary Jurisdiction by Justices’ Clerks. The day-to-day operation of listing practice is the responsibility of the justices’ clerk, with the assistance of the listing officer.
Justices’ Issues Groups deal with administrative and judicial matters for the magistrates’ courts, including listing, rota arrangements and case management. They operate at area level. They comprise magistrates, District Judges (MC), justices’ clerks and senior regional HMCTS officials. Bench Chairmen and representatives from the Magistrates’ Association are often also members. Any changes to local listing patterns are kept under review by the JIG.
For further information please call the Ministry of Justice press office on 0203 334 3536.