The Law Society has today published an online map to show how Ministry of Justice plans to close 91 courts and tribunals across England and Wales will affect solicitors.
Last month justice minister Shailesh Vara announced that the government was consulting on the shutting of nearly one-fifth of the courts estate. He also announced the further integration of 31 courts and tribunals in England and Wales.
Vara said more than 95% of citizens will be able to reach their required court by car within an hour, and 83% would be able reach a tribunal in that time.
However, the Society said it knew many people trying to attend court rely on public transport.
Using government figures - and on the basis court users are travelling by public transport - the map shows that the percentage of citizens able to reach court within an hour will frequently be far lower than the Ministry of Justice claims.
The problem is especially acute in Wales and in northern England. For instance:
- If Holyhead Magistrates’ Court closes, according to the map no court users will be able to reach their new court, Caernarfon Criminal Justice Centre, within an hour;
- Should the government close Kendal Magistrates’ Court and County Court, and transfer work to Barrow-in-Furness Magistrates’ Court and County Court, no court users would be able to reach their new court in an hour;
- Should West Cumbria Magistrates’ Court and County Court close, the work would be transferred to Carlisle Magistrates’ Court, with a limited amount going to Barrow-in-Furness Magistrates’ Court. County work would be transferred to Carlisle Combined Court. In this case only 1% of court users would be able to reach their new court within an hour;
- Should Hartlepool Magistrates’ Court and County Court close, and work transfers to Teesside Magistrates’ Court and Middlesbrough County Court, 7% of magistrates’ court users, 7% of family court users and 5% of county court users will reach their new court within an hour;
- Should Macclesfield Magistrates’ Court close and work be moved to Crewe Magistrates’ Court, 12% of court users will be able to reach their new court within an hour;
- If Brecon Law Courts in Wales closes, criminal hearings would transfer to Llandrindod Wells Law Court, Merthyr Tydfil Combined Court and, for users living in the Ystradgynlais area, Swansea Magistrates’ Court. Civil, family and tribunal hearings would be transferred to Merthyr Tydfil Combined Court. According to the map, only 34% of magistrates’ court users, 33% of civil and 24% of family court users would reach their new court within an hour.
In contrast, the impact of the government’s proposals for cities such as London and Birmingham is expected to be minimal:
- Should Greenwich Magistrates’ Court close and hearings transfer to Bromley Magistrates’ Court, 92% of court users will be able to reach the new court within an hour;
- Should Hammersmith County Court (formerly West London County Court) close and hearings move to Wandsworth County Court, all court users will be able to reach their new court within an hour;
- Closing Birmingham Youth Court should have no impact for users if work transfers 200 metres away to Birmingham Magistrates’ Court.
Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said ‘promoting and protecting access to justice for all, whoever and wherever they are’ was a core value uniting its diverse membership.
The Society is seeking views and case studies from solicitors to help formulate its response to the government’s consultation. See here for more information.