Ministry of Justice to press ahead with closure of 86 courts and tribunals
Eighty-six courts and tribunals in England and Wales – representing almost a fifth of the total – are to be closed, the Ministry of Justice has confirmed.
In a written ministerial statement, Shailesh Vara, the Minister for the Courts and Legal Aid, claimed that the court and tribunal estate needed to be updated and many of the buildings were expensive to maintain but unsuitable for modern technology.
Vara added that the courts affected were used for just over a third of their available hearing time.
The Courts Minister insisted that the Government was committed to modernising the way in which in justice was accessed and delivered, with more than £700m to be invested over the next four years.
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 Government’s formal response to a consultation begun in July 2015 means that just five of the courts originally earmarked for closure have won a reprieve.
Sixty-four sites will close as proposed in the original consultation. A further 22 closures are to take place but with changes to the original proposals, the minister said.
More than 2,100 separate responses to the consultation were received, along with 13 petitions containing over 10,000 signatures.
The Law Society, which opposed the closure of 59 of the 91 courts earmarked for closure, expressed disappointment that the Government was pressing ahead with the closures.
President Jonathan Smithers said: “The majority of these closures will make it more difficult for a significant number of people to get to court, disproportionately affecting people living in rural areas, those with disabilities and lower income families.
“Combined with increases in court fees and reductions in eligibility for legal aid, many of the closures will serve to deepen the inequalities in the justice system between those who can and cannot afford to pay.”
The MoJ’s consultation had prompted a strong response from certain local authorities.
Marie Kelly-Stone, Head of Legal Services at Dartford Borough Council, wrote to the Ministry to say there was a “general feeling of dismay” among the various council departments who used Dartford Magistrates’ Court. The Leader of Bridgend County Borough Council meanwhile urged the MoJ to rethink proposals to close its local court, amid concerns over access and the potential for increased costs for the authority’s legal team. Neither court has escaped from closure.
The five courts to be retained are: St Helens County Court; Stockport Magistrates’ Court and County Court; West Cumbria Magistrates’ Court and County Court; Bath Magistrates’ Court, County Court and Family Court; and Carmarthen Civil, Family, Tribunal and Probate Hearing Centre.