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September 11, 2013

Better courts: do they need structural change?

Courts in England and Wales get a bad press, being seen as inefficient, old fashioned and unaccountable.  But if these criticisms are in any way true, who or what is going wrong and how can it be corrected?  A new report from the Centre for Justice Innovation and NEF calls for reform of the courts through the spreading of best practice.  The report calls for sentences to be better tailored to the individual, for sentencers to be allowed to review how a community sentence is going and for the extension of specialist courts, such as drugs courts and domestic violence courts.  All good recommendations but difficult to implement in our centralised, rule bound system.  Now, the courts service (HMCTS) is dedicated to speed of process and saving money.  Anything which involves a sentencer specialising, or taking more time in court may be seen as a unaffordable luxury.  There are two routes forward.  We need to press for greater localisation of the courts, including control of budgets, so judges and court staff on the ground can make decisions.  Also we need to persuade government and practitioners that more sophisticated and engaged sentencing will save money in the long run.