£20,000 court survey tells magistrates nothing new

A £20,000 Lord Chancellor's Department survey sounding out demand for evening and weekend magistrates court sittings only confirmed what the courts had been saying all along, it has been claimed.

The survey of non-professional users of magistrates courts, published last week, showed the public was satisfied with the current court sitting arrangements.

The magistrates courts themselves say that the survey vindicates their long held view that there was no need to change the system.

The survey was carried out in 16 courts across the country and interviewed 1,225 people. Seventy-four per cent were defendants and 6 per cent witnesses.

Only 18 per cent said evening sittings would be more convenient while 16 per cent preferred Saturday.

The most common complaints were the length of time spent waiting before a case was called and problems stemming from work commitments.

Duncan Webster, secretary general of the Central Council of Magistrates' Courts Committees, said he was not surprised at the findings. “Magistrates courts told the Lord Chancellor's Department that there is not sufficient demand to sit outside hours. We are not opposed to it when it is required but we think it is unnecessary to sit regularly out of hours.”

“We would be very surprised if there was now a concerted effort by the LCD to persuade that sittings outside hours are of general benefit,” he added.