Tristan Kirk, a court reporter for the Evening Standard, has been praised by the head of the Magistrates Association for starting an “important debate” around the use of the Single Justice Procedure (SJP) particularly in relation to cases involving the elderly and vulnerable.

Speaking on the Radio 4 Today Programme this morning (16 August 2023) Tom Franklin, Chief Executive of the Magistrates Association said that the work by Tristan Kirk and the Evening Standard this week in highlighting transparency issues had been “excellent” and that more court reporters were needed to start “important debates” around how the justice system can be fair.

The discussion came in the wake of reports this week by the Evening Standard which highlight cases going through the SJP system including an 84-year-old pensioner prosecuted by the DVLA and fined £1,876 for not paying £93 in road tax and a 78-year-old woman with schizophrenia and dementia who was convicted of not having vehicle insurance. Her daughter had written to say the offence happened when she had fallen ill and was admitted to hospital, but she was issued with the £156 fine nonetheless.

Responding to the Evening Standard’s reports, Franklin said: “I think the work that Tristan Kirk has done at the Evening Standard is excellent and I wish that there were more Tristan Kirks reporting on courts across the country because actually he starts important debates such as this in terms of how our justice system can be fair and more transparent.”

Backing calls for a review of the Single Justice Procedure, Franklin said more data was needed to ensure that this facet of the justice system was dealing with cases as fairly as those taking place in open court.

He added: “One of the things that we have called for at the Magistrates Association is a review of the transparency of that procedure to make sure that it is as good as if cases were heard in open court and we don’t think they are at the moment. One of the areas that we would like more work on is open data because there are so many of these cases and it would be really helpful if there was more data on the cases published so that anyone can scrutinise that and we can look for inconsistencies and we can look at how the process can be improved and so on. In terms of the procedure itself it does help with making sure the courts are working efficiently and that means that justice can be speedier and that benefits everyone.”

The Single Justice Procedure (SJP) was introduced in 2015 to streamline prosecutions of crimes such as fare evasion and speeding and it allows a single magistrate to deal with cases behind-closed-doors based on written evidence alone.

Tristan Kirk is a renowned court reporter at the Evening Standard and has previously worked with the Society of Editors as part of its ‘Crisis in Our Courts’ campaign which started a conversation around greater transparency in the justice system and the importance of court reporting and led to a joint partnership with the Society of Editors and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) to refresh HMCTS media guidance as well as promoting the importance of court reporting and open justice through a series of regional roadshows bringing together media representatives and courts staff. The HMCTS partnership also culminated in the publication last year of the Reporters’ Charter which brought together, for the first time in one document, the rights of journalists to attend court proceedings.

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