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Judges hit back on court closures

21 October 2010

Lord Justice Goldring, the senior presiding judge for England and Wales, has strongly criticised MoJ plans to axe 157 magistrates’ and county courts.

The court closures are a key part of the MoJ’s attempt to slash its budget by 23 per cent over four years.

Responding to the proposals on behalf of the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, Goldring LJ found significant factual errors in the consultation, failure to take into account travelling times or the impact on family work, and warned of the prospect of delays.

He also warned that closures could damage the recruitment and morale of magistrates and said the projected savings of £15m had ignored additional costs created by the closures.

In terms of errors, Goldring LJ said the MoJ argued that Abergavenny Magistrates’ Court had not been used since 1999, when in reality the court had recently been refurbished and reopened in July 2010.

On transport, he said: “Many users already have journey times of an hour to their local court which could easily be doubled were they to have to travel to the suggested court.

“In a significant number of examples, court users would face journey times leaving many unable to arrive at court before 10am or return home after 4pm.”

Goldring LJ said that in rural areas there might only be one bus or train service available.

“Given the likelihood that victims of crime, or those involved in civil and family disputes, will live in the same locality as other parties, it is not difficult to envisage everyone travelling together on the local bus so as to arrive at court on time. Closures will exacerbate such difficulties.”

Lord Justice Goldring said it was vital that where family proceedings courts closed, work was transferred to a suitable environment, rather than simply the nearest criminal court.

“It is important to keep those involved in family proceedings, especially children, separate from those involved in criminal proceedings. Equally, it is important that criminal work is not transferred to family courts not necessarily suited to such work.”

The lord justice said the £15m figure for estimated savings did not appear to take into account additional costs, such as increase in expenses claims for magistrates, victims and witnesses.

He said he was concerned about the impact of a “more disparate court estate” would have on the spread of those willing to put themselves forward as magistrates.

“I fear too that morale among remaining magistrates will fall if strong reasons for retaining a court are ignored in favour of negligible financial savings.”

Writing in next week’s issue of Solicitors Journal, Jennie Kreser, partner at Silverman Sherliker and a magistrate, describes in detail the impact of the closure of one South London court.

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Regulators Courts & Judiciary