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New MA report highlights magistrates' experience in criminal courts during Covid-19

The Magistrates’ Association, assisted by Transform Justice, has published a report on magistrates’ experiences of criminal courts during the pandemic. The report makes recommendations for the future use of remote links in magistrates’ courts.

11 April 2022
New MA report highlights magistrates' experience in criminal courts during Covid-19

The report published today draws on evidence gathered from members about their experiences during the pandemic. Magistrates commented on changes such as the vast expansion in the use of remote links and the increased use of benches of two both of which sought to reduce social contact in line with government restrictions. These changes were implemented hurriedly, in response to the pandemic, and this was reflected in the sub-optimal implementation. This report highlights areas of concern for magistrates and uses this evidence to indicate areas of improvement for the future. 

Technology used in the courts was often an issue during the pandemic. Of more than 800 magistrates who responded to the survey, 86% experienced technical difficulties during hearings. 62% experienced such difficulties frequently. These technical difficulties often caused difficulties with communication in the court. Other magistrates commented that remote links, even when operating well, have inherent limitations in terms of communication and effective participation.  

The evidence showed that magistrates developed their own methods for ensuring that participants understood proceedings. However, they sometimes had to stop hearings and require people to come to court in cases where video links prevented effective hearings. It was also clear that how and when remote links were used varied widely across England and Wales, with a lack of detailed guidance preventing consistency during the pandemic and beyond. It was notable that more than three quarters of magistrates who responded did not want remote links to be used as extensively as they were during the pandemic.  

The report therefore makes five core recommendations to improve the way remote links are used

  1. More information is needed on the impact of remote links 

  1. Remote links have a place, but must only be used where suitable 

  1. The known impacts of remote links must be acknowledged and guidance on effective use produced 

  1. Technology must be improved 

  1. Benches of two must only be used where appropriate 

To ensure that crucial lessons are learned, the Magistrates’ Association will use this evidence from our members to work with partners to improve the administration of justice, particularly in relation to the use of video links. 

To read a summary of the full report click here.  

To read a blog about the report and the next steps for the MA click here.  

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