Rises in spending on the magistrates' courts and the Crown Court in the past ten years pose difficult choices for the coalition government, according to a report published by Centre for Crime and Justice Studies. Magistrates' courts' and Crown Court expenditure 1999-2009 highlights the following:
- Total expenditure rose to £1027.89 m in 2008/2009. In real terms the magistrates' courts figure rose by 17 per cent from 1998/1999 to 2003/2004 and by 31 per cent from 2005/2006 to 2008/2009. The Crown Court total increased by 10 per cent from 2005/2006 to 2008/2009.
- Capital expenditure increased very substantially from 2005/2006 to 2008/2009, with a rise of 271 per cent in the Crown Court figure.
- Employee expenditure for the magistrates' courts rose by 15 per cent from 1998/1999 to 2003/2004 but then declined by 8 per cent, whereas the Crown Court figure declined by 2 per cent from 2005/2006 to 2008/2009.
- Staff numbers have declined over the past three years by 12 per cent. The magistrates' courts have lost 1,088 staff, equivalent to 14 per cent of their staffing complement, and the Crown Court has lost 150 staff or 6 per cent.
- The volume of cases brought to the magistrates' courts has declined by 16 per cent since 1998. Meanwhile summary justice exercised by police and prosecutors in the form of cautions and `out-of-court' penalties has grown.
- Since 2005, cases brought to the Crown Court have increased by 17 per cent.
Research director at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies and co-author of the report, Dr Roger Grimshaw said:
'With an annual billion pound bill for the criminal courts arriving in the government's in-tray, many magistrates' courts are earmarked for closure but we hear little about the massive expansion of cases decided by police and prosecutors. Where is the debate about open and fair justice? Are we blindly walking towards justice delivered by officials and consigning lay magistrates to history?'
Richard Garside director of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies said:
'As arguments over public spending continue, and scale of the proposed cuts become clear, this briefing on the criminal justice system's Cinderella service offers important insights into the challenges facing the coalition.'