A government consultation on the closure of 91 courts and tribunals across England and Wales will not affect legal aid and family reforms, the Gazette has been assured.
The Ministry of Justice and HM Courts and Tribunals Service is consulting on the proposed closure of 57 magistrates’ court, 19 county courts, two Crown courts, four tribunal hearings and nine combined courts. A further 31 courts will be integrated.
The Legal Aid Agency is currently assessing 1,099 bids for 527 duty provider contracts to provide 24-hour cover at police stations.
A spokesperson for the agency said the consultation ‘will not affect the ongoing assessment and planned timetable for the crime duty tender’.
The new contracts are scheduled to begin on 11 January next year. Firms will be notified of the tender outcome in September.
The Law Society said it will respond to the court closure plans following consultation with the profession, ‘including assessing the potential impact on legal aid tender bids’, a spokesperson said.
Meanwhile, family lawyers expressed concern over proposals to close two courts in Bury St Edmunds, where the divorce centre for London and the south-east will be located.
An HMCTS spokesperson said the divorce centre would be unaffected. With the majority of divorce cases uncontested, contested cases will be heard in local court centres.
Tony Roe (pictured), a family solicitor at Tony Roe Solicitors, said he understands the divorce centre will remain alongside the county court at Bury St Edmunds, which is not earmarked for closure.
‘Those wishing to attend the divorce centre at Bury St Edmunds in person will be able to do so, I am told, if they so wish. There will also be a drop-box facility there, apparently,’ he said.
Among the courts earmarked for closure is St Helens Magistrates’ Court and County Court.
The magistrates’ court was given a £1.7m interior revamp, reopening in July 2012 after an eight-month closure. St Helens County Court relocated from Rexmore House to the current Corporation Street venue as part of the refurbishment project.
The HMCTS spokesperson said workload in Merseyside had reduced over recent years.
‘Should St Helens Magistrates’ Court and County Court close, it will enable the work to be moved to larger venues, with good transport links, and will allow the receiving courts to be more responsive and flexible with the listing of cases,’ the spokesperson said.