The closure of one in five magistrates’ courts has had ‘lamentable’ consequences for justice and led to rocketing costs, according to a paper from a centre-right thinktank calling for the restoration of local justice.
In Magistrates Work!, published by Politeia, Conservative MP Simon Reevell, academic John Howson and barrister Stanley Brodie QC put forward proposals for restoring magistrates’ courts.
Since 2009, the paper states, closures have cut the number of courts from 330 to 240. This, the authors say, has had ‘lamentable’ consequences, reducing access to justice and transparency, while costs have ‘rocketed’ by an extra £1.5bn.
‘The rule of law now operates from a select few hubs. Some places have been abandoned in terms of local justice,’ Reevell told the Gazette.
As many offences are dealt with away from the communities where they are committed, ‘no one will hear anything about the case, no lessons will be learned, there will be no deterrent effect’, he said.
With little extra cost, the paper suggests, buildings could be adapted to accommodate courts or former courts reopened to ensure there is ‘a courtroom in every community’.
The authors suggest that different courts could be used for different purposes, with large centralised courts supplemented by smaller courts dealing with specific issues, such as domestic violence, drugs and traffic offences.
Community justice panels, says Reevell, may evolve back into magistrates’ courts. ‘If courts had not been closed in the first place, this would not need to be done. It’s like reinventing the wheel,’ he said.