Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Criminal cases could leave magistrates' court

CRIMINAL cases will no longer be heard at Solihull Magistrates’ Court under plans which council bosses fear will hit their ability to collect payments.


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Cases will be heard at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court because there is not enough work for Solihull, The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and HM Courts & Tribunals Service said.

Civil matters such as contracts, negligence, family matters, employment, probate and land law will remain.

The change will see “the movement of all criminal work” Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council said.

It has raised concerns about the impact on council prosecutions for matters like council tax and business rates and benefit fraud.

The authority collects £11.8m in council tax and business rates through sending summonses, though not all end up in court.

Yet it fears its “excellent” collection rate could be hit by the change.

It said: “Part of this success is due to our close working relationship with Solihull Magistrates' Court.

“We are concerned that the removal of this relationship would have an adverse effect on our income collection rate.”

The listings office – which arrange when court hearings take place – moved to Birmingham in July and the council said finding court dates now takes “considerably longer”.

The changes will take up more council staff time and see just one person cover all prosecution matters.

A council report warned: “This is an extremely wide scope of legal areas that need to be covered.”

About 200 residents a year “would face a significant increase in travel time and costs if they had to attend Birmingham Magistrates’ Court” it said.

Yet the MoJ said Magistrates had requested the change as there is not “sufficient work listed before the court to run the number of courts it does each day”.

It said: “Often courts are cancelled at short notice due to the lack of work.

“This has a detrimental affect on Magistrates sittings and is not best use of legal adviser resource.”

A consultation started on July 4 and will end on Friday. The MoJ said it had been shortened "to ensure that any transfer of work is concluded in a timely fashion". 

In April, The Solihull Newsreported that the court service had denied the moving of administrative staff would impact on the type of cases heard.

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