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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 February 2007, 04:29 GMT
Court reform 'by the end of year'
Lord Falconer
Lord Falconer says politicians "should stay out of it"
Reforms to speed up hearings in magistrates' courts will be introduced across England and Wales by the end of the year, the lord chancellor has said.

The move follows four pilot projects in London, Coventry and Cumbria which saw offenders dealt with more quickly.

There was a 30% rise in guilty pleas at the first hearing and a 70% reduction in the number of adjourned cases.

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, said co-operation between police and prosecutors cut paperwork for cases.

We have tried out new ways of working and they have shown that proper and effective collaboration...can produce very significant results
Lord Falconer
Lord Chancellor

He said the reforms will now be implemented at all 360 magistrates' courts by the end of 2007.

However, the lord chancellor also made it clear that he could not guarantee that more magistrates' court closures were not on the cards.

The pilot programmes took place at courts in Coventry and West Cumbria, as well as at two in London - Thames and Camberwell.

It set specific targets aimed at speeding the path to justice - courts were challenged to cut the number of hearings taken to conclude each case from an average of five or six to one in a guilty plea case and two for contested cases.

"We have tried out new ways of working and they have shown that proper and effective collaboration between district judges, magistrates, court staff, the Crown Prosecution Service and probation staff can produce very significant results," said Lord Falconer.

He said the changes had meant "a different way of working but as far as the courts are concerned it has meant no extra staff".

The lord chancellor said the reforms had prompted "extraordinary results".

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