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Prisons and Courts Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:20 pm on 20th March 2017.

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Photo of Elizabeth Truss Elizabeth Truss The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice 4:20 pm, 20th March 2017

My right hon. and learned Friend has made the important point that a fair trial is at the heart of our justice system. We already have rules committees, and we are establishing a new online rules committee which will be managed by the judiciary. They will look at the issues in detail to ensure that a fair trial is always paramount.

The Bill will enable screens to be installed in courts across England and Wales to allow the public to observe virtual hearings from court buildings anywhere in the country. Lists of all open cases will be published online, and results will be made available digitally. That will ensure that justice is done and seen to be done.

The Bill will streamline the pre-trial process, and will make changes in the way in which cases are allocated in the Crown and magistrates courts. Defendants will be able to indicate a plea online in all cases, allowing the courts to make administrative decisions without the need for a hearing. We are also stripping out nearly 30,000 unnecessary first hearings for the most serious offences in the magistrates courts each year.

The Bill will abolish local justice areas, simplifying the structure of our magistrates courts and removing the bureaucracy and geographical constraints that cause inefficiencies and delays. It will allow those who are charged with some of the most straightforward, non-imprisonable offences to resolve their cases entirely online. For example, a commuter charged with failure to produce a ticket can log on to a website, have all the options clearly explained, and accept a conviction and pay a set penalty instantly online without waiting for a magistrate to process the case.