Charity Citizens Advice has said technology can fill the gaps left by vacated court buildings after the government confirmed a raft of closures.
The Ministry of Justice yesterday confirmed that 86 courts and tribunals across England and Wales will shut within two years.
The department said the closures will save £27m a year in operating costs and bring in £39m from the sale of freehold buildings.
An MoJ spokeswoman has confirmed that a consultation will take place with court staff, with the aim of ‘redeploying as many as possible’, although redundancies are expected.
Justice minister Shailesh Vara said the remaining court estate will be ‘user-focused and efficient’ and that money will now be invested in modern technology to offer online pleas, claims and evidence systems and video conferencing.
Many interested parties have come forward to condemn the closures, but some have tried to assuage fears about access to justice after the closures have been made.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said technology has the potential to preserve access to justice when courts close.
‘The government’s aim to help more people secure justice without attending court in person is right and for this to be achieved the implementation must match,’ said Guy.
‘The stress and difficulty of giving evidence or getting redress through the justice system can be heightened by the pressures of attending court in person.
‘While court closures could mean some people have to travel longer distances, technology such as video links could help tackle this issue. And where this can be done safely it is also sensible to explore how other community locations can be used by people seeking justice.’
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, tweeted that court closures ‘provide an opportunity to do things differently’ and change the criminal justice system.
The ministry said talks have begun with local authorities and other stakeholders to identify different ways of delivering services. Alternative venues for hearings could include civil buildings, universities and community centres.
The department added: ‘Work is underway to establish pilots to test hearing cases in non-court buildings.
‘We will make sure that the security of the judiciary, staff and users is assessed as part of this process and the provision of appropriate ICT facilities will also be carefully considered and evaluated.’