In March 2020, the country entered an unprecedented national lockdown affecting every aspect of daily life. Radical changes were made to the running of magistrates’ courts in order to keep them functioning. Produced in collaboration with the Magistrates’ Association, this report explores the experiences and impressions of 865 magistrates who sat in court between March 2020 and November 2021. Evidence was gathered through an online survey, followed by two focus groups. The report provides a snapshot of the experience within magistrates’ courts in the criminal jurisdiction during the pandemic.
There were a variety of views among survey respondents about the changes introduced to deal with Covid-19, including more magistrates sitting as benches of two and greater use of remote links. Respondents accepted the changes as addressing emergency needs, but were, in the main, negative about their impact. While many magistrates considered that there was a place for changes such as remote links both as an emergency measure and in the interests of efficient justice, this was caveated by the firm belief that, post-pandemic, the changes could not continue to be used as extensively as during the height of public health restrictions, and that vast improvements are required to technology and training.
This report presents the findings of our qualitative research with magistrates, and identifies five conclusions about the use of remote links during the pandemic and how the experiences of magistrates can inform and improve future practice.