Magistrates 'underfunded' says inspectorate report

THE TRAINEE Solicitors' Group is supporting a proposal to hold admission ceremonies in regional centres as well as at Chancery Lane.

The proposal – first raised by Law Society vice-president John Young – has recently been researched by the society. Its head of legal education Nick Saunders says a “prototype ceremony” will be held in the provinces next year.

He says a venue has not been booked for the ceremony, but it is likely it will be held either in Yorkshire or the North West.

“We have been looking at this for a little while. We will see how the first regional ceremony goes and what level of interest we have from people coming up for admission,” says Saunders.

“If it is favourable we will have to assess how many ceremonies will be held outside of London.”

TSG chair Richard Moorhead says that the change would mean solicitors could be admitted in their own localities and society officials would get the opportunity to meet members of local branches.

The TSG says some solicitors find the cost of attending the ceremony prohib- itive. Because of this it is often impractical to invite friends and relatives.

“Personally I think it is a great idea,” says Moorhead.

MAGISTRATES courts could gain vital ammunition in their fight for cash from the first of the Magistrates' Courts Service Inspectorate local reports.

The inspectorate, in its reports on the Dorset and Wiltshire Magistrates' Courts Committees (MCCs), calls for greater spending.

It says Dorset's legal team is “overstretched and understaffed”, and legal advisers' time in court “well exceeds the hours recommended by the best practice guide on court clerk hours”.

The inspectorate recommends employing more legal staff and part-time ushers to counter the problem, which would mean a large increase in salary costs.

Duncan Webster, general secretary of the Central Council of Magistrates' Court Committees, says the various recommendations “will create pressures for MCCs to determine priorities”.

He says: “Clearly, this will have implications for Dorset. Of course, an MCC might wish to use these reports to their own advantage. They might strengthen their case for increasing their capital grants.”

This may be particularly timely, because the Lord Chancellor is understood to be reviewing the cash-limiting formula for the magistrates' service, says Webster.

Other proposals for Dorset involving expenditure include improving procedures and signs to courts and on court buildings.

For Wiltshire, recommendations include improving facilities and information provided for witnesses.

Both MCCs have been praised for their commitment to improvements.

The inspectorate came into existence earlier this year with a u1.8 million budget to fund its drive for improved performance and practice.

Its remit is to inspect MCCs to “assess whether an MCC is using its resources efficiently and effectively to deliver a high quality service” (The Lawyer 26 April).

It aims to give the Lord Chancellor independent information about MCC performance, to give guidance to MCCs on good practice and to ensure both lawyers and the public are better informed about how their local magistrates' services are run.

Mike Yuille