Lord Thomas: Further court closures are 'inevitable'
â€˜It's a question of how radical are we prepared to be'
A continuation of the drive to close under-utilised courts is 'inevitable', the Lord Chief Justice has told MPs in his final justice committee meeting before he retires on 1 October.
Discussing the content of his final annual report, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd said further court closures were 'inevitable' despite it being controversial.
'Inevitably there are areas I expect that there will be the need for further court closures,' he told Labour MP Bambos Charalambous during the meeting yesterday morning.
He said that work already done to standardise court rooms had made it easy to solve the problem of having multiple tribunal buildings in one town. 'That's not politically controversial because you've still got every facility,' he said.
Lord Thomas said that assessing what resources were available and the extent to which 'you have occasional courts' or 'a full-service centre' is much more difficult.
'In the end, it's a question of how radical are we prepared to be in providing a much better service or do we spend the money on maintaining buildings that are under utilised,' he said.
Lord Thomas also responded to questions about the Brexit withdrawal bill, expressing particular concern over the role the judiciary will have to play in enforcing judgements.
He recommended that parliament provide guidance on how to interpret EU instruments where there has been no decision of courts, particularly in light of jurisprudence that is heavily dependent on the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms.
'I think it would not be a controversial statement to say that the CJEU has produced a degree of opprobrium in certain places, and the last thing we want to do is to transfer that opprobrium to the judiciary,' he warned.
Asked by Tory MP for Cheltenham Alex Chalk whether he thought there was a risk judges could be criticised for keeping the UK 'under the yolk' of the CJEU if clarity is not provided, Lord Thomas said, 'I see it as a very substantial risk'.
The outgoing Lord Chief Justice continued: 'There's a fairly strong view among most [judges] that we don't want to be landed with making policy decisions of the kind the court makes and be seen to be continuing EU law, rather than to the extent that parliament wants it to be different, be making it different'.
Lord Thomas will be succeeded by former head of Temple Garden Chambers Sir Ian Burnett on 2 October.
Hannah GannagÃ©-Stewart, reporter