County court, tribunal and criminal court centres, may be closed under a recent government announcement. The proposal is currently undergoing a consultation.
In total, 91 courts have been identified, with other local courts to pick up those court’s work if closed. That amounts to roughly one in five courts so it would be huge cull. Wales and Northern England look likely to be the hardest hit.
The reasoning for the proposed closures is to save costs. The criticism is that the courts are not being used to a high enough capacity. The idea is that other courts with capacity can pick up that work and the cost of keeping the other court buildings open, such as staffing and utilities, can be avoided or the buildings used for other purposes.
For example, in the Justice Department consultation document for the North West (viewable here) it states:
“The proposed closure of Altrincham, Bolton, Bury, Macclesfield, Oldham, Stockport, Tameside and Warrington County Courts would enable the purpose built Manchester Civil Justice Centre to be fully used to the benefit of court users. In conjunction with the closure of magistrates’ courts in Greater Manchester (Bury, Oldham, Stockport and Trafford) this will enable the release of under used court estate.”
The cost savings and efficiencies are difficult to argue against but it is the impact on county court users that is troubling.
The proposals have come in for criticism, especially in places when it would result in significant additional travel time and cost for court users to travel to the replacement court. The government claims that 95% of people would be able to travel to their nearest local court by car within an hour. It isn’t clear how it has calculated this and potentially presumes perfect driving conditions and parking at the court doors, either of which will happen in practice. It is hardly persuasive and in our view is a poor attempt to deflect the obvious inconvenience it would cause:
- Time estimates by car are all very well but what about people who need to use public transport?
- What about those who need to get to court during morning traffic?
- What about the increased travel costs for court users, staff and witnesses?
- What about the jobs of those working in the courts identified for closures?
The Law Society has produced a helpful map which you can view here which shows each of the courts identified for closure.
Perhaps more public facilities will be closed in this manner? Local libraries, job centres, etc, all to be within city centres, regardless of how it impacts its users and its staff.