IT is not so long since the era when the prospect of miscreants having their misdemeanours published by local newspapers was a sufficient deterrent because of the shame and humiliation if family or friends learned about their criminality.
Not any more. Like most rural services, the nationwide network of magistrates courts have been not been immune from financial cuts – and efficiency savings – that have been sanctioned by successive governments.
And, while the most serious offences – like the wave of violent crime – will continue to be dealt with by crown courts, the continued dilution of local justice means low-level offenders will, in many instances, continue their law-breaking without a care for others.
Take the proposed closure of Northallerton Magistrates Court. If this measure goes ahead, victims – and witnesses – could, in an area not renowned for its public transport, have to travel as far as Harrogate, Skipton, York and Middlesbrough.
As such, there’s much merit to the proposal by Thirsk and Malton MP Kevin Hollinrake for giving magistrates the power to handle all cases which could be punishable by a jail term of up to one year (the current threshold is six months). He also makes a persuasive case for greater use of video technology.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Justice should, at the very least, be exploring the possibility of stenographers being present in every court so it’s more practical for the media to report criminal proceedings. For, without proper local accountability, the only people who will flourish are the criminals. Is this what Ministers want?