The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has announced that 31 court buildings were closed by the end of August and that they are on track to shut all the 86 courts marked for closure by September 2017.
The whole portfolio is expected to fetch £41m, which will be put back into the justice system. The MoJ says that they will be able, as a result, to make the best use of technology to improve the court experience.
You can see the detailed list of court closures and dates on GOV.UK.
The Trades Union Congress has published a survey of members working for HMCTS which found that:
- 90% see budget cuts to court services and the Crown Prosecution Service as “detrimental to the effective delivery of justice.”
- 71% said the last round of court closures have had a negative impact,
- 87% felt that an increase in litigants in person has had a detrimental effect on the ability of family and civil courts to deliver justice fairly, effectively and efficiently
Law Society response
Whilst the Ministry of Justice and HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) interim CEO Kevin Sadler has plans for new technology, including video link systems, pop-up courts and the online court, the Law Society is concerned that the HMCTS is still pushing ahead with all the court closures, even though these developments are still untested, and the impact this will have on access to justice.
Immediate past president Jonathan Smithers is quoted in Gazette as saying:
“We are hugely disappointed that the government is pressing ahead with the closures. Combined with increases in court fees and reductions in eligibility for legal aid, many of the closures are making it more difficult for a significant number of people to get to court, disproportionately affecting people with disabilities, lower income families and those living in rural areas – so deepening inequalities in the justice system.”
You can read more about the views of those working in the court system, including solicitors and deputy district judges (DDJs) in this article in Gazette.
In the battle to cut overheads, it seems that the main losers in this process are the court users, who are having to travel further, pay higher court fees and wait longer for their case to be heard.
A commercial organisation could not expect to treat the users of their services this way and get away with it.
David is an authorised High Court Enforcement Officer and our Director of Corporate Governance