Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Closures of Magistrates and County Courts

As widely anticipated, the Ministry of Justice has announced that 93 Magistrates' Courts and 54 County Courts will close.  See Ministry of Justice "Court Reform: Delivering Better Justice."

It is claimed by government that savings of £41.5 m will be made alongside perhaps some £38.5 m arising from sale of assets.  £22m is to be spent on improvements to the remaining court estate but that includes 3 major projects at Camberwell Green, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Prestatyn. 

The Ministry of Justice claims that - "Reform of the courts and court estate, allied with the reforms of sentencing and rehabilitation, and changes to the system of legal aid that the Government has announced will make a more intelligent, more proportionate and much more cost-effective justice system"

Much in that statement is highly debatable and will keep the commentators going for some time to come.

The Ministry' statement also refers to Police Officers being allowed to give their evidence via video links so that they do not have to physically attend court.  There is also mention of "Neighbourhood Justice Panels" which the government now appears to be keen to introduce.  There is little information at the moment about such panels though a few clues exist in the Ministry's recently published Green Paper - see here.  It appears that such panels will be made up of community volunteers and criminal justice system practitioners hearing more minor cases.  Was that not the role of the Magistrates' Courts?

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