Closed courts sold by the government have been most likely to fall into the hands of property developers, the Ministry of Justice has revealed.
Justice minister Lucy Frazer QC confirmed in response to a written parliamentary question that around 30% of the 142 courts sold since 2010 have been snapped up for use in property developments, retirement homes or hotels.
Around a quarter of courts have been purchased by a local authority or policy authority, while 17% have been acquired by private individuals.
But dotted among the most common outcomes are some unusual uses for abandoned court buildings: five have become religious centres, another is now a veterinary surgery and three are further educational trusts.
Penzance County Court is now a medical practice, Pontypridd Magistrates’ Court has been taken over by a mental health charity, and Solihull Magistrates’ Court was bought by supermarket chain Aldi.
Figures published last month confirmed £224m has been raised by the sale of court buildings since 2010. Almost two-thirds of that sum came from the sale of nine courts in and around London.
Frazer told parliament: ‘We are investing over £1bn to reform and improve our world-leading courts and tribunals system. Our ongoing court sales are contributing to the court reform programme.’
The details emerged as campaigners fighting the latest round of closures entered the final week for them to make representations to government. Parliament is expected to hear a debate at Westminster Hall tomorrow on the government’s case for closing facilities in Banbury, Maidenhead, Cambridge, Chorley, Fleetwood, Northallerton, Wandsworth and Bromley.
Several local campaigns have been founded by local lawyers and community leaders and they have encouraged people to respond to the MoJ consultation by this Thursday’s closing date.
Daniel Zeichner, Labour MP for Cambridge, where the 10-year-old magistrates’ court building is earmarked for closure, said: ’Justice should be local. We are a big city and a growing city.
‘There will always be a need for courts and those courts should be in the city. The public often has to use public transport to get to court. This is just the Ministry of Justice trying to save money.’
Five out of the 91 buildings cited for closure in the last round were eventually saved following consultation. A handful of those earmarked to be shut have nevertheless remained open: family lawyer Edward Cooke, who has campaigned to save Chichester’s court, reported earlier this month the site is still open a year after its supposed closure date and has a full list of upcoming cases.