VIRTUAL courts will be used across Essex to allow them to operate outside of working hours.

It will mean defendants at Colchester, Chelmsford, Southend and Basildon could have their first hearings via video link from the police station.

This is part of a pilot scheme to create ‘flexible courts’ across the country, with trials being set up in 48 different courts.

The Ministry of Justice will also be increasing the hours that both Southend and Chelmsford magistrates courts can sit on week-days.

Chelmsford Magistrates Court will also sit for extra hours on Saturdays.

Justice Minister Damian Green said: “We want the justice system to respond further and more effectively to the needs of victims, witnesses and the local community.

“I am extremely pleased that thousands more people up and down the country will benefit from flexible courts in their communities.

“This is one part of our drive to create a swifter, surer and more flexible justice system for all.”