Hampshire courts could open for longer, says Chief Constable

PLAN Chief constable Alex Marshall
PLAN Chief constable Alex Marshall

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BOLD reforms that could see courts open for longer are being suggested by Hampshire’s top policeman in a bid to make the justice system more efficient.

Chief Constable Alex Marshall is questioning whether courts in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight could open earlier in the mornings and later in the evenings.

Most courts begin hearing cases at 10am and work until late afternoon.

Mr Marshall wants courts to cut paperwork by using technology such as iPads and smartphones to speed up the justice process and cut costs as Hampshire Constabulary battles to save £50m by 2015.

He said: ‘It’s a matter for courts what times they open.

‘But my question for the courts is “are you sure that the current opening hours are the right ones for dealing with justice today?”

‘Could the hours be more businesslike, perhaps opening at 8am or 9am?

‘I can get my officers there at 7am if necessary, or should courts perhaps open in the evening to make justice today more accessible?

‘There is limited opening on Saturdays already and night courts, when they have been tried, are generally not successful.

‘Evening courts – I think there’s a lot of merit in that.’

A paperless system could be introduced for first hearings at magistrates’ courts in Portsmouth by April.

It is hoped the move – which would be the first of its kind in the country – could free up police officers to spend more time on the beat.

Mr Marshall said: ‘We have already tried running two serious crime cases paperless with the co-operation of the crown court judges and that seems to have worked successfully.

‘We’re using mobile data terminals to record all our evidence onto a computer straightaway, including witness statements and court papers.

‘We want to be able to deal with the Crown Prosecution Service and courts without resorting to printing everything and sending bundles of paperwork around the place.’

John Apter, chairman of Hampshire Police Federation, backed the chief constable’s comments.

He said: ‘This is something we have been calling for for a long time.

‘It is not only for the benefit of the courts and police, most importantly it’s for the victims and the public as well.

‘It’s absolute common sense.

‘The chief has got our total support.’