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September 30, 2013

A seemingly dry document?

A lot of the documents coming out of the Ministry of Justice and the Judicial Office are opaque to the lay person.  And the latest on the governance of magistrates’ courts is a case in point.  I’ve found it impossible to find this document on the internet, apart from on the website of the Magistrates’ Association.  But I think it is seen as a purely judicial matter, of no interest to others.  It is quite technical, but the gist is clear.  The recommendation is to reduce the number of committees on which judges and magistrates sit to discuss court management.  So far so good.  It sounds as if there were far too many.  But one strata – Area Judicial Forums – are being completely abolished while Judicial Issues Groups are being reduced in number and renamed.  Courts Boards, on which members of the community sat, have already been abolished.  This is all part of the fall-out of the abolition of magistrates’ courts committees and the increasing centralisation of control of magistrates’ courts.  In the wake of the abolition of MCCs, a plethora of committees were established, perhaps to placate magistrates sore at losing influence over the courts.  But none of the committees had the power and accountability of the MCC.  A committee without real power loses credibility and buy-in.  And that is what happened to the post 2003 Courts Act committees.  As I suggested in my report Managing magistrates’ courts, the diminution of magistrate and local power may not have been intentional but, once started, it has increased year on year.  The proposals in the latest consultation are just the latest in a series of developments which have taken power and control away from local magistrates.