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North Devon Magistrates' Court matrix pilot scheme to be reviewed at March meeting

By North Devon Journal  |  Posted: February 21, 2013

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A PILOT scheme to reduce court opening hours at North Devon Magistrates' Court in Barnstaple will come under review next month.

The scheme was introduced in September last year, and the changes had initially been intended to be permanent.

It was suggested at the time it only became a pilot scheme because of pressure put on Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) by a group of court users.

Zara Svensson, a solicitor at Slee Blackwell, said she hopes a meeting next month will bring answers for everyone concerned with the future of the court, including solicitors, the probation service, magistrates, North Devon and Torridge Councils, families, victims and defendants.

"This matrix system became a pilot scheme as an afterthought," she said.

"I don't think enough thought went into setting it up as a pilot. There are concerns over how long it will last and how it will be assessed."

She hopes some answers will be forthcoming from HMCTS's Tim Smith at the meeting organised by North Devon Council on March 14.

She is not sure what will come from the meeting, as she and other defence solicitors have decided not to engage too much. "We don't want to be in a position where HMCTS can present this as a defence solicitors' fight," she said.

"That's HMCTS's position but that's really not the case."

At the meeting a group of court users, including defence solicitors, will present HMCTS with facts and figures on how the pilot scheme has been going.

"An overview would be a lack of available court time has led to delays in final hearings," said Miss Svensson.

"I've had a youth trial today listed for May 22.

"Two months is a long time for youths to remember what happened.

"But with fewer opportunities to list trials there are delays, and delay is the enemy of justice. Court days are longer, the list is overstuffed – it's not anyone's fault, there just isn't time."

Miss Svensson said the solicitors would be presenting evidence of exactly how many cases have been put off, because they have been keeping a record of it.

"We had six trials listed on the same day last week," she said. "Three were adjourned in the office, without consultation.

"That's crazy."

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