Court reforms usher in first of the 'super committees'

NINE magistrates courts committees (MCCs) are set to become the first to amalgamate under the Lord Chancellor's courts reforms.

The Lord Chancellor's Department has named the committees in the first draft of potential amalgamations, using its new powers to reduce the number of MCCs under the Police and Magistrates Courts Act 1994.

But groups representing magistrates courts say they are still concerned about the proper provision of justice under the new super committees.

The first MCCs to be merged are as follows:

Berkshire and Oxfordshire;

Bradford, Kirklees and Wakefield;

Gwynedd and Clwyd;

Mid and South Glamorgan (this also extends to Gwent, which will take in the whole of Caerphilly).

The amalgamation orders allow the MCCs to continue as they are until the end of March next year and then for shadow committees to be established for each area no later than 1 January 1996.

Lord Mackay said of the procedure: “My objectives in considering amalgamations are to promote economies of administrative scale, to improve arrangements for grant allocation and to increase local decision-making in the distribution of resources.”

The LCD intends to reduce the number of MCCs from 105 to around 60. An LCD spokesman said the first wave of mergers would reduce the number to 100.

A spokeswoman for the Magistrates Association said members were still concerned about the process. “We want to make sure that there is good local justice for local people,” she said.

The Central Council of Magistrates Courts Committees backs the process as long as it is driven by the committees themselves and not forced by the Lord Chancellor under his enhanced powers.

General secretary Duncan Webster said: “Our aim is that [the Lord Chancellor] is never put in a position where he has to use those powers.”

He said that some committees felt they were better left as they were.