OUR legal system is sometimes criticised for being slow and expensive. While that might be true to a degree in some areas of the law, much of the day-to-day administration of justice in this country is exemplary and has long been a model for the rest of the world.

I was struck by this when visiting the magistrates’ court at Northallerton last Friday when I enjoyed a most interesting tour of the court – including the cells – and spent some time watching proceedings.

Courts like Northallerton handle 95 per cent of all criminal cases, typically lesser matters such as criminal damage, motoring offences, low-level violence and drunkenness, and they are dealt with locally, by local people.

The magistrates’ court process is quick. In contrast to Crown Courts which deal with the most serious offences, most cases are dealt with in a matter of days or weeks.

In Northallerton, the purpose-built court opposite County Hall in Racecourse Lane takes cases from all over the northern part of North Yorkshire. The other magistrates’ courts in the county are at York, Scarborough and Harrogate.

I was most impressed with what I heard and learnt during “my day in court.” The three magistrates I witnessed dealing with a variety of cases are, like all magistrates in the UK, volunteers. They are not paid for their duties which require attendance at court a minimum of 13 days a year.

One of their strengths is their diversity. Magistrates come from all walks of life and are not selected on grounds of wealth, profession/trade or background. Intelligence, common sense, integrity and the capacity to act fairly are more important.

All magistrates receive initial training which is regularly updated. And they have to make decisions about some very difficult matters. Such as if an offender should be sent to jail for a short period, or whether mental health issues are a factor in a defendant’s offending. In family and youth courts they often have to deal sensitively with vulnerable individuals.

While the role of magistrate – or Justice of the Peace – is an ancient one dating back more than 650 years, they operate today in an entirely modern way. For example, all of them are equipped with iPads or laptops as are many of the court’s permanent staff and there was a commendable lack of paper in the courtroom.

During my discussions with the magistrates, I was made aware that magistrates have the potential to play a greater role in the administration of justice in this country. Given greater powers of jurisdiction and greater flexibility in sentencing they could deal with more cases which currently go to the higher – and more expensive and congested – crown courts.

This would save money and enable more defendants to be dealt with locally and in a more timely fashion. I’ll be examining these issues further in Westminster.

• You can contact me at rishi.sunak.mp@parliament.uk or at 1 Omega Business Village, Northallerton DL6 2NJ and follow me on facebook at facebook.com/rishisunak