A proposal to radically change the way courts run in the Black Country could lead to witness and victims giving evidence from police stations, it has emerged.
HM Courts & Tribunals Service is proposing to close Dudley Magistrates’ Court — using the building for non-criminal work such as family matters – and have courts in Sandwell and Dudley hear all pre-trial cases for the whole of the region.
All trials would be heard at Wolverhampton Magistrates’ Court, which would also become a criminal youth centre for the Black Country.
The proposals could come into force as early as January and have been criticised as they would see defendants having to make round trips of up to 20 miles.
Witnesses would have to make the same longer journeys and a six-week consultation document on the proposals admits it may become an issue.
However, West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Bob Jones said that a new ‘live link’ system recently trialled in Sutton Coldfield could ease the problem.
It would see victims and witnesses give evidence via video link from police stations.
At the moment the system is geared more towards police officers, saving them from spending hours at court waiting for cases to come up.
But Mr Jones said that if possible witnesses and victims should be spared the ordeal of going to court.
He said: “If witnesses and victims are having to travel further to get to court it may be a problem.
“We can compensate that by allowing the great use of video technology in police stations closer to home. It reduces the need for people to be in the intimidating nature of the courtroom.
We’re very much looking at the issue of live links which will save considerable time and money. We’ll see if we could bring forward these plans.”
During the Sutton Coldfield pilot its police station was linked with Birmingham Magistrates Court.
There were 20 ‘live link’ trials with 42 officers listed to attend however in the end only five officers were actually required to give evidence. This meant that the 37 who weren’t needed were able to get on with work at the station instead of travelling to and from the court, saving 165 hours of police time.
The system is now being rolled out to police stations in West Bromwich, Bloxwich and Brierley Hill.