Extra stipendiaries pledged to cut delays

The Lord Chancellor is to increase the number of stipendiary magistrates in a bid to reduce delays in the courts.

Lord Mackay has introduced a statutory instrument to increase the maximum number of stipendiary magistrates who can sit outside inner London and the City from 40 to 50.

Introducing a debate in the Commons last week, Gary Streeter MP, parliamentary secretary at the Lord Chancellor's Department, said the move would help cut unacceptable delays in handling cases and reduce a bench's sitting time when it was above the recommended average.

The increase will come at a time when the Magistrates Association is seeking greater co-operation between lay magistrates and stipendiaries, under the recommendations of the working party on the role of the stipendiary magistrates published earlier this year.

A spokeswoman for the Magistrates Association said: “We accept the recommendations of the working party.

“Some magistrates do feel insecure. But we are keen to build up a good partnership with the stipendiaries and see them as complementing Justices rather than replacing them.”

The issue will be debated in the House of Lords this week before being considered by the Privy Council, where it is expected to be passed without difficulty.

In inner London and the City there are already 53 stipendiary magistrates.