Wednesday, 23 June 2010

The axe to be taken to some 157 courts

The Ministry of Justice, recognising the present financial climate, is keen to axe to some 157 Court locations.  The majority are Magistrates' Courts but over 50 are County Courts.  On 23rd June a series of consultation papers were published - see MoJ Consultations.  It appears that these are in addition to closures announced earlier this year by the previous government - see here.  The full list of proposed closures can be read here.  This will result in the administration of justice becoming far less local and convenient and it is highly doubtful that the remaining Magistrates' Courts will be able to absorb either the staff or the magistrates.  With fewer, and no doubt busier, Magistrates' Courts it is likely that the government will need to ensure that "out of court disposals" are utilised to the maximum possible extent.

HMCS currently operates 330 Magistrates' Courts, 219 County Courts as well as 91 Crown Court Centres.

See The Guardian 23rd June - "Magistrates' Courts to close in cost-cutting drive" and there is further explanation on the MoJ website.

The Ministry is also starting a review of Legal Aid - see announcement.

Addendum 24th June:  The response of the Chairman of the Magistrates' Association can be read here.  Mr Thornhill JP points out that fewer courts will result in more delay and will be a disincentive for witnesses to attend.  Of course, delay can cause added distress to victims.

Whilst accepting that we live in financially difficult times (to put it mildly), the savings involved in these closures are, on the government's own figures, £15.3m per year in running costs and a one-off maintenance bill of £21.5 m.  The Prisons budget is in the region of £2.2 bn per year, a figure which makes the savings due to court closures seem small.  We can expect that the Prisons budget will have to be culled and that will, in turn, result in far fewer offenders being sent to prison.

1 comment:

  1. As well as these current measures, notice the continuing growth of the "Advocate" - that is, (in England), a lay person who has "done a course" in representing people unable to represent themselves or pay for a lawyer to do so. Government agencies and charities are increasingly promoting "Advocacy" as a "Volunteer opportunity" to "Make a difference"(sic) because it is a cheap form of LawyerLite, regardless of the consequences for the clients - sorry, customers - and the law.