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Chair of the MA gives evidence to the Justice Select Committee

MA contributes to ongoing inquiry into the impact of coronavirus on the justice system

12 May 2020
Chair of the MA gives evidence to the Justice Select Committee

John Bache JP , Chair of the MA, gave oral evidence to the Justice Select Committee as part of their ongoing inquiry looking at the impact Covid-19 has had on the justice system and the work of the courts. 

He began by commenting about how impressive it had been to see everyone working together to keep the justice system going in the unique circumstances caused by the current coronavirus crisis. John noted that everyone deserved huge congratulations for the successful speedy introduction of new technology to allow cases to be progressed remotely, and the fact that new innovations were continuing to be brought in all the time.

The challenges of ensuring the safety of those who have to attend court were discussed, and John welcomed the urgent steps taken to prioritise work so some courts could be closed, allowing staff to focus their resources on keeping fewer courts clean and therefore ensuring a sanitised environment for those cases that do go ahead. John also welcomed the recent efforts which were allowing magistrates to sit again to deal with some hearings.

John was asked about the prioritisation of cases, and he responded that he thought the process was sensible as it ensured those cases involving highest risk of harm to take precedence. John did point out, though, that there would be a considerable backlog of cases to be dealt with, once normal practice was able to resume. He suggested that parliament should consider increasing the retirement age of magistrates to mitigate the likely impact on recruitment of new magistrates, as well as bring into force the legislation allowing magistrates' courts to retain cases than would engage a custodial sentence of up to 12 months.

In respect to the current increased use of technology for almost all hearings, John Bache noted the MA had always had concerns about the appropriateness of video-link for vulnerable parties, particularly in respect to youth justice as all those under 18 should be considered vulnerable in comparison with adult defendants. Although John said that in normal times, in person attendance would be preferred, the current situation demanded unique responses and he felt experienced members of the judiciary could ensure fair participation, even for those under the age of 18 years.

The chair of the committee, Sir Bob Neill, asked about concerns that the Single Justice Procedure (SJP) did not allow for transparent and open justice, and John agreed it was a problem as justice should be performed in public but that lists and outcomes were available of those cases dealt with via SJP.

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