Radical change in the courts?
Keir Starmer has given a retirement interview to the Times in which he calls for minor offences to be taken out of the court system. In theory I agree with him. I sat in a bench of three magistrates presiding over TV licence offences. It was very boring. People seldom turned up to plead their case and we used a formula we used to process all routine cases. It was pretty pointless and very expensive in court resources. Where I differ from Keir is in the remedy. He suggests fixed penalties. Two weeks ago I might have agreed with him. But then I heard a presentation on litter penalties by Adam Snow at the Howard League’s What is Justice conference. Unlike with parking fines, there is no interim appeal process for fixed penalties for litter. If you feel your fixed penalty is unfair you have to go to court, with all the costs and time that entails. The enforcement of litter penalties has been privatised in some local authorities. The number of penalties imposed has skyrocketed, as has the non-payment of fines. So if we are going to take minor offences out of court, we need to think carefully about how we do it. People need to be able to appeal their fine/penalty outside court and the whole process needs to be seen to be fair…or people won’t pay.