While pilot schemes have been operating throughout England, the Crown Prosecution Service has announced that courts will have to be more ‘flexible’ during the Olympics.
Other ideas in a government white paper include magistrates handling cases on their own where there is a guilty plea, more use of video links when hearing evidence, and judges operating out of community centres or police stations if necessary.
A spokesperson for the Crime Prosecution Service said: ‘The CPS fully supports efforts to introduce greater flexibility into the criminal justice system. To that end, we are currently participating in a limited pilot scheme in Cardiff and Durham to introduce extended court hours throughout the week and expand the use of Saturday magistrates courts from remand hearings to full trials, which will benefit victims and witnesses who may find it difficult to attend court during regular hours.
‘These hearings will be staffed by prosecutors who volunteer, as many of our staff already do for Saturday remand hearings across the country. If extra prosecutors are required, external advocates can also act on our behalf. Providing prosecutors for the court will not be an issue for the CPS.’
And the Ministry of Justice said: ‘We are working with local areas to test whether a more flexible criminal justice system is able to better respond to the needs of the public, including victims and witnesses. This may include courts sitting outside of traditional hours, sitting at weekends and increasing the use of video technology. We are working with all criminal justice agencies to iron out any issues which arise as a result of the pilots, in order to create the most effective system for local communities.’
However, Richard Atkinson, a solicitor and chair of the Law Society’s criminal law committee, told The Guardian newspaper: ‘They have introduced the schemes without any real consultation. I’m not against flexible courts. I think there’s potential for improvement in efficiency. But I have real reservations about Saturday and Sunday sittings. Solicitors are contractually obliged, by the Legal Services Commission, to work nine to five, Monday to Friday. Most of the criminal solicitors’ firms are small, sometimes sole practitioners. They cannot compensate with time off during the week.’