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Clause 30 - Places, dates and times of sittings

Part of Courts Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 1st July 2003.

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Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Labour, Ellesmere Port and Neston 3:00 pm, 1st July 2003

I understand my hon. Friend the Minister resisting amendment No. 129 because it is too restrictive, but I ask him to consider some aspects of the issue.

Clearly, it is not unusual for cases that involve much local feeling, security issues, specialist information technology and communications facilities or specialist facilities for children to be moved around, and that is fine. Facilities for

dealing with children and similar cases being dealt with in a locality are explicitly encompassed under subsection (5)(d).

Batch processing—I use that phrase again—goes against good local justice. For example, a gentleman from my locality came to see me a few years ago complaining about how he was being treated after a breach of television licensing regulations. I told him that he was guilty and that, if I were him, I would pay up. However, he had a good point about the process of justice. The case was being heard in Northwich, which is not, in the absence of a motor car, the most accessible part of Cheshire, especially from Ellesmere Port. Prior to the Opposition's closing the court, that case would normally have been heard in Ellesmere Port.

Nowadays most cases are heard in Chester, where there is a combined bench. There is a good bus service from Ellesmere Port and Neston into Chester, but it is one hell of a journey to Northwich. Some kind of guidance is needed on listing, so that magistrates courts clerks can ensure that careful consideration is given to the circumstances of the accused, even if it might be more efficient, from the point of the view of the management of the court, to deal with centralised cases.

Even though my advice to the gentleman was, ''Do not see a lawyer, you are guilty, full stop. I suggest you plead guilty and pay up,'' he had the right as a citizen to put his case—his mitigating argument. That was removed from him by virtue of how the case was listed. He would have needed to stay overnight because of the timing of the case. Certain adjustments are necessary to overcome some of the rural difficulties, notwithstanding the good reasons why subsection 5(d) should remain as it is.