Improve the efficiency of courts

Victims and witnesses are often nervous about attending court, so it can be immensely frustrating when cases are delayed – leading some to think the court system does not care about them.

This commitment sets out the PCC’s ambition to work with partners to improve the timeliness and effectiveness of court processes, particularly reducing the impact on victims and witnesses and assisting in keeping them fully engaged to achieve positive outcomes.

The initial focus was on the practice of double and triple listing cases at court and the problems this can cause for victims when cases are delayed.

However, from a HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMTCS) perspective, with a shrinking estate and limited time available, double or triple listing cases is a legitimate means of maximising court sessions given the multitude of reasons why a case may not progress as anticipated, such as late guilty pleas or failure of victims or witnesses to attend.

Therefore the PCC has sought to work with Dorset Criminal Justice Board (DCJB) partners to look at process improvements to increase the timeliness and effectiveness of court room provision – the commitment has therefore been amended to reflect this position.

Through raising concerns and working with partners on the DCJB, particularly HMCTS, the PCC has been able to influence a number of service improvements.

In terms of timeliness of court hearings, additional Weymouth Magistrates trial courts have been implemented and some ‘non-trial’ courts converted to trial courts in Poole.

This saw a reduction of outstanding magistrates’ cases from 453 in February 2018 to 272 by December 2018, and with further progress anticipated in 2019.

Concerns were also highlighted over insufficient court dates available for youth justice cases. This was specifically acknowledged as a problem in Poole and by May 2019 there had been an increase from two youth courts every eight weeks, to three in eight weeks as a result, with an anticipated further increase to roughly one per fortnight in due course.

HMCTS also continue to work with the Dorset Combined Youth Offending Service over the potential to reduce adjournments for requests for written pre-sentence reports and for the youth offending service to give an oral report on the day instead.

A further initiative led by the DCJB to improve efficiency is a pilot that has been running for a number of months to fast track drink drivers through the court system. While still relatively new, anecdotally this has proven very successful with offenders being processed through court within approximately eight days of the offence. This in turn means the most serious offenders are being taken off the roads much more quickly.

Latest data from January to October 2019 includes:

  • 266 cases of drink driving
  • 87% of cases finalised at first hearing within 7-9 days (disqualifications and fines issued)

Through the DCJB and by chairing the Victims & Witnesses Sub-Group, the PCC will continue to challenge all criminal justice system agencies over their performance and services delivered to victims of crime, and work with them to problem solve and drive service improvements such as those highlighted here.

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