Late-night hearings at North Staffordshire Magistrates' Court facing axe
PLANS for a court to sit until as late as 8pm look set to be shelved due to staffing problems.
North Staffordshire Magistrates' Court, at Fenton, was due to be part of a Ministry of Justice pilot scheme involving later opening hours on Wednesdays.
The idea behind the plans was to enable courts to better deliver 'swift and effective' justice.
But the pilot at Fenton may no longer go ahead because not enough court staff have volunteered to work the later hours.
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The Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) believes the pilots have been 'badly planned and has warned its members against taking part.
A spokesman for the PCS said: "Late night opening on a Wednesday at North Staffordshire magistrates' court is one of a number of extended hours pilot schemes around the country.
"They are staffed by volunteers. The PCS is concerned that the pilots have been badly planned.
"The union has been advising members not to volunteer unless they are clear about what they will be expected to do, what they will be paid for doing it and what the wider implications are for staffing locally.
"We understand not enough people at North Staffordshire magistrates have volunteered for the pilot to go ahead."
Police Minister Nick Herbert last month published a white paper proposing more flexible court hours, saying the current criminal justice system was too slow.
The white paper also called for increased use of court video links and extended court hours on Saturdays and Sundays.
Single magistrates could sit outside courts, in venues such as community centres, to further speed up the process in uncontested cases.
It typically takes five months for a case to be disposed of in a magistrates' court, from the date of the offence to sentencing.
Following last year's riots, courts across England opened for longer and at weekends in order to cope with the large number of people being processed by the criminal justice system.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said it was still in the process of determining where the pilot schemes would be running.
He said: "We are working with local areas to test whether a more flexible criminal justice system is able to better respond to the needs of the public including victims and witnesses.
"This may include courts sitting outside of traditional hours during the week, sitting at weekends and increasing the use of video technology.
"This is to ensure we are able to respond to local demand and deliver swift and effective justice.
"We are currently working to finalise which areas will take part in the pilots and which models will be implemented, though we are expecting that extended Saturday and Sunday courts will only make up a very small proportion of the overall number of pilots.
"Decisions will be taken at a local level following discussions with partner organisations in the criminal justice system and the judiciary.
"The pilots will operate for a six month period and will be evaluated to inform any future decisions."