On January 1st this year, the North East and North West Hampshire Magistrates Benches merged, to become the North Hampshire Bench, a combined Bench of some 200 magistrates. The first Annual Bench Dinner was held at Basingstoke Golf Club on Friday, with some 40 JPs attending.
Beverley Jones chaired the event, to Sir George had been invited to speak by the Deputy Chairman, Susan Robinson. "I took the opportunity to congratulate the magistrates on the service they provide, entirely voluntarily, and also for responding to the challenges in the recent White Paper 'Swift and Sure'. A large number of changes have been proposed, with more video links, with JPs dealing with straightforward cases on their own, with cases held possibly in community centres, as well as the move to digital files. This is all taking place against a background of downward pressure on public expenditure, and the magistrates, who deal with 90% of all criminal cases, do a fantastic job on our behalf." Sir George also mentioned the proposals for the courts to sit outside normal sitting times, in order to provide justice more quickly, and was reassured by being told that local magistrates were up for this. "I also discussed informally out of court disposals, and the links with other stakeholders such as the Police and the Probation Service." Sir George said he greatly enjoyed the event, and now had a much clearer picture of the challenges facing the Service.