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Outcry over family court closure plan
Thursday 21 June 2012 by Catherine Baksi
A group of 160 leading family lawyers and social workers has written to senior judges raising concerns over the proposed closure of a court rated a ‘centre of excellence’.
HM Courts & Tribunals Service is considering plans to close the Inner London and City Family Proceedings Court, at Wells Street in central London, and absorb its seven courts into the Principal Registry of the Family Division at High Holborn.
Wells Street deals with some of the country’s most difficult family cases and is home to the pioneering Family Drug and Alcohol Court, led by District Judge Nicholas Crichton, who received a CBE in this year’s Queen’s birthday honours list.
It is understood that the lease for the Wells Street building has a break clause that HMCTS could invoke this year, enabling it to give up the building in 2014. Public bodies are encouraged to take advantage of such break clauses under a central scheme to cut the cost of government buildings.
Signatories to the letter claim that the closure of the court risks sacrificing its family-oriented ethos and practice. The letter to the head of the Family Division Sir Nicholas Wall and four other judges is signed by solicitors, barristers, social workers and guardians.
It recognises the financial constraints on the courts service and the expense of the Wells Street premises but says: ‘That needs to be put into the balance with the fact that the court has rightly been hailed by many people, including international observers, as a centre of excellence. It is a great worry that its strengths and qualities could be lost.’
Childcare solicitor David Jockelson from London firm Miles & Partners, who drafted the letter, described the Wells Street closure as a ‘symbolic forerunner’ of issues arising from the government’s programme to reform care and adoption.
An HMCTS spokeswoman said: 'HMCTS continually keeps the use of its estate under review to ensure we are making best use of resources and providing the best facilities for court users.’
She confirmed that the proposal is being considered, but said: 'Matters are at a very early stage and any plans would of course be informed by consultation with stakeholders and staff.’
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