Headlines: February 27th, 2004

Local people are to be given a say in how courts are run under new regulations which have been developed after wide consultation on the framework for 42 community-focused Courts Boards in England and Wales.The measures were set out by Courts Minister Chris Leslie with the publication of new regulations and a report called ‘Courts Boards: Constitution and Procedures A Response Paper’ and the publication of the results of a three-month public consultation process.

The Boards will work in partnership with the new unified courts agency, which is due to begin work in April next year. It will mean that for the first time, all courts in England and Wales will come under one administrative roof, ending the long-standing division of responsibilities between magistrates courts, run by 42 local Committees, and the Crown, county and higher courts, which are run by the Court Service.

Each Board will have seven members – one judge, two magistrates, two people with knowledge or experience of how the courts operate in their area, such as lawyers or those working in victim support or citizens’ advice, and two people to be representative of their local area. Mr. Leslie said the Courts Boards would allow vital local input to ensure that the courts administration was run in a way that met the needs of the local community. Board members would draw on their experiences to ensure services were delivered in the best possible way.

He said it was important to identify people with the right skills and abilities and they should represent the rich diversity of the communities served by the courts, as this would increase public confidence in how the courts are run. The Boards will have a statutory duty to “scrutinise, review and make recommendations” about how local courts are run, their location and how the level of service for court users can be improved.

There will be a total of 294 appointments across England and Wales and adverts will appear in both the national and regional press. The DCA will seek applications for the magistrate and lay members from the spring and the Judge member of each Board will be appointed by the Minister on the recommendation of the Lord Chief Justice.