Over the Christmas period, the Magistrates Association received widespread coverage regarding its concerns over online pleas expected to be proposed in the forthcoming Prisons and Court Reform Bill. The Bill is due to be laid before Parliament next month. The proposals could mean that hundreds of thousands of defendants would be able to plead online for ‘minor offences’ such as fair-dodging and fishing without a licence, via internet-based administrative systems.
Speaking on behalf of the Association, National Chairman Malcolm Richardson JP was quoted on the front-page of The Times newspaper saying: “We’re very concerned about the principle of handling entire criminal cases without the involvement of independent judicial decision-makers. A core principle of our system is that justice is seen to be done, and we don’t see how clicking a button and staring at a computer screen with no judicial involvement represents that.
“Furthermore, defendants’ individual circumstances can’t be considered through a wholly automated process for dealing with an offence.”