The justice system is under enormous pressure to deal with a backlog of cases with fewer resources and, on the face of it, streamlining the procedure benefits everyone. Just as taking the safety features off a car will make it go faster, that is fine until something goes wrong.
Streamlining the process removes the checks that make sure that the right person has been convicted of the correct offence.
This procedure conflicts with the Government’s rhetoric about being “tough on crime”. Receiving a conviction should be a serious matter and making the process more convenient for defendants seems an odd priority. It does, of course, save money. The law needs to be clear so that anyone deciding to break it does so knowingly.
Public figures can choose to plead guilty this way to avoid publicity
Even in a public health emergency, ministers have to act within the law. Justice needs to be open to scrutiny so that we can check that. Reporters are not being given enough detail about who is being dealt with by the single justice system. Public figures can choose to plead guilty this way to avoid publicity.
Single justice could have disproportionate effects on certain groups — using a television without a licence is one of the offences it covers. It is mostly women with children who are convicted of this.
People in subdivided houses where the post is mixed up with flyers for pizzas and election leaflets, students who live away in term time, and people renting or in insecure accommodation who have to move frequently are most likely to miss a notice. They can then end up with a conviction that they do not know about which can then lead to them losing their jobs or unwittingly making false statements when they apply for insurance.
Prosecutors cannot just make the law say what they want it to be. Any of us could be wrongly convicted. The Government should be focusing on making the system faster by ensuring that courts are not sitting empty.
Dr Hannah Quirk is a reader in Criminal Law at King’s College London, a trustee of Transform Justice, and editor of the Criminal Law Review