A senior judge has hit out at the government’s court closures and warned that hearings in alternative venues will work only for minor offences.
Mr Justice William Davis, judicial lead on youth justice in England and Wales, said the way the closure programme had been applied to youth courts was ‘not appropriate for access to justice’.
Davis was speaking in a personal capacity at the Westminster Policy Forum on youth justice reform, education, rehabilitation and the youth court held yesterday in London.
Davis, a presiding judge on the northern circuit, cited the closure of the youth court in Birmingham. The court was hearing too few cases and so they were transferred to the ‘adult court’, he said. ‘We put in representations about this but they were not taken on board,' he said. 'The result was you had youths mixed in with all and sundry.'
'There was also a youth court in Skegness which wasn’t close to anywhere. Now all youths who commit an offence have to travel to Lincoln and that is actually a huge journey. This is happening all over the country’.
John Drew, director of standing committee for youth justice, asked Davis whether hearing cases in other public buildings, such as schools and town halls, could work.
‘You can do that if the offence is minor but any case where there is a remote possibility of custody its not possible. The court closure programme does not grapple with this issue,’ Davis said.
The use of alternative venues has been key to the Ministry of Justice’s court estate strategy.
In a report last year, the House of Commons Justice Committee warned that ‘inadequate forethought’ had been given to the security implications of holding court sessions in buildings that are not equipped with a secure dock.
The MoJ said alternative venues would be subject to an HMCTS security risk assessment, covering the types of cases to be listed in the venue as well as the physical security features.