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Nearly a fifth of all courts and tribunals in England and Wales to close

Nearly a fifth of all courts and tribunals in England and Wales to close

Eighty-six of 460 courts and tribunal hearing centres will shut as part of “modernisation” plans, HM Courts and Tribunal Service has confirmed. The reforms aim to reduce the £500m annual cost of the courts estate. The government has published a schedule for the closures, with six phases planned between now and September 2017.

Justice minister Shailesh Vara confirmed that, on average, the 86 courts due to be closed were only being used for just over a third of their available hearing time, equivalent to fewer than two days a week. The government has reprieved five courts identified for closure as part of its review of the estate.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.” He said that many court buildings were expensive to maintain yet unsuitable for modern technology.

The consultation process, which opened last July, prompted more than 2,100 separate responses, along with 13 petitions containing more than 10,000 signatures. The government’s response stressed that access to justice is “not just about proximity to a court” and that changes to estimated travel times are ‘small’.

“97% of citizens will be able to reach their required court within an hour by car, even after the closures. The proportion able to reach a tribunal within an hour will be 83%.” In ‘exceptional cases’ start times of hearings may be delayed to allow later attendance due to travel difficulties.

Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said: “We are disappointed that the government is pressing ahead with the closure of so many courts. 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.’

He welcomed that five of the proposed closures would not be going ahead and acknowledged that the government intends to make changes to its proposals for 22 courts following evidence submitted by our members. “We look forward to continuing discussions about the revised proposals in these areas to ensure that access to justice problems are mitigated.

“No matter who you are, no matter where you live, everyone in England and Wales must be able to access legal advice and the justice system,” he said.

Jo Edwards, national chair of dispute resolution service Resolution which represents 6,500 family lawyers and other professionals in England and Wales, called the government’s plans a “simplistic, ill-thought through exercise” She said the government has yet to present any analysis on the impact on courts that will remain open and absorb work from closed sites.

“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,” she said. “Those affected the most by these closures will be vulnerable people such as victims of domestic abuse, young people and those who rely on public transport to get around.”

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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