You are here

MoJ to close 86 ‘underused’ courts

Decision described by lawyers as an 'abomination' and 'devastating news' for vulnerable people

11 February 2016

Add comment

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has confirmed its decision to close 86 court and tribunals following a consultation process.

The MoJ claimed that the courts due to close are 'underused' and that by reducing 'surplus capacity' it can invest more money into improving facilities elsewhere.

Some 64 sites will close as proposed in the consultation, with a further 22 closures taking place but with changes to the original proposals.

These changes, suggested by respondents, include the establishment of suitable alternative venues, such as the use of local civic buildings or different venues in the courts and tribunals estate to those originally proposed.

Five courts previously up for closure will be retained. These are St Helens County Court, Stockport, West Cumbria, Bath, and Carmarthen.

In a written statement to parliament, the justice minister Shailesh Vara said: 'Court closures are difficult decisions; local communities have strong allegiances to their local courts and I understand their concerns.

'But changes to the estate are vital if we are to modernise a system which everybody accepts is unwieldy, inefficient, slow, expensive to maintain, and unduly bureaucratic.'

The minister claimed that, even after the closures, 97 per cent of people will be able to reach a court within an hour by car. 'On average, the 86 courts we are closing are used for just over a third of their available hearing time. That is equivalent to less than two days a week,' he said.

Three out of 57 magistrates' courts - Stockport, West Cumbria, and Bath - are to be retained. Meanwhile, fve others - Bury St Edmunds, Holyhead, Kendal, Dolgellau, and Eastbourne - are scheduled to close.

Malcolm Richardson, National Chairman of the Magistrates' Association, said: 'While accepting there was a clear case for some to close, many magistrates will be very worried about some of these closures and their impact on access to justice.

'There will be inevitable additional pressure on the system and the paramount concern of magistrates is for accessible justice to be protected. We hope the MoJ will work closely with magistrates to safeguard it.'

Taking to Twitter, one anonymous criminal defence lawyer, @DefenceGirl, said: 'The court closures are an abomination. In some areas defendants and witnesses will now have to pay to travel an hour or more to nearest court.'

SJ contributor Marilyn Stowe said: 'The odds are against most people; now court closures. It is not recognisable to the justice system I first joined.'

Members of family law organisation Resolution have criticised the decision, claiming the government's analysis is not thorough enough to justify closures on this scale.

Jo Edwards, national chair of Resolution said the news was 'devastating' for thousands of separating families: 'Parents and children need to be able to access the justice system. That is why it's disappointing to see the MoJ closing so many family courts across the country.'

Edwards argued that those affected the most by these closures would be victims of domestic abuse and those who rely on public transport to get around.

She added that the government has failed to present any analysis of the impact these closures will have on the remaining courts.

In his statement, Vara said government was committed to modernising the way in which justice is accessed and delivered and is investing over £700m over the next four years to update the court and tribunal estate, including the installation of modern IT systems and making the justice system more efficient and effective for modern users.

However, Edwards commented: 'Instead of this simplistic, ill-thought through exercise, ministers should be coming forward with detailed plans for modernising family courts. While we welcome the additional investment in remaining courts that the government has promised, this work needs to be done as a matter of urgency if the impact of these closures is to be mitigated.

'Unfortunately, parents and children will now be faced with closures at a time when the system is already struggling due to a devastating combination of funding cuts, fewer judges and an increase in the number of people representing themselves in the family court.'

Categorised in:

Courts & Judiciary