Court Funding. Strategic Planning

Through the provisions of the Police and Magistrates Courts Act 1994, Parliament made Magistrates Courts Committees (MCCs) responsible for the efficient and effective administration of the magistrates courts in each of the 105 areas of England and Wales. And to that end, it required MCCs to think and plan strategically.

However, the current funding method for MCCs works against Parliament's intentions and requirements.

At present, the LCD determines 45 per cent of each MCCs' annual grant by past performance: 35 per cent on all cases completed over the past three years; 5 per cent on the number of criminal cases completed within 56 days of first appearance, over the past two years; and 5 per cent on the number of financial orders paid in full over the past two years.

These performance measures do not indicate what an MCC's future expenditure needs will be.

Past performance is neither a fair nor realistic method of determining what resources an organisation will need to provide its services in the future.

The LCD has just begun a review of this funding formula, and hopefully the outcome will produce a method of grant allocation that realistically enables MCCs to fulfil their statutory duties.

Magistrates courts need to be funded simply to be there: to respond to the demands for local justice made by other local justice agencies – police, CPS, local authorities, public utilities and undertakings, private prosecutors, applicants to family courts etc. They are demand-led, and not, as a past chair of the Bar rightly put it, to be treated like pea-processing plants.

In order to deliver local justice services on demand, MCCs need to be guaranteed basic annual running costs: at least 75 per cent of their previous year's out-turn.

The remaining 25 per cent could be based on performance over the past five years; this would reflect trends that might sensibly indicate a consistent up or down-turn in demands, suggesting a relative decrease or increase in future resources to provide the appropriate level of services.

Any such performance indicators should not simply measure volume and speed of disposal of cases, but should gauge the work done by courts in processing cases and enforcing orders.

For example: contested trials consume more resources than written pleas of guilty; contested bail proceedings take up more than remands in absence; tracing fine defaulters takes longer than receiving payments as ordered by the court.

In this way, MCCs could be properly resourced and able to plan for maintaining and improving the quantity and quality of services for court users, as required by Parliament.