The government has spent £1.35m upgrading courts which have since been earmarked for closure, it has been revealed.
Justice minister Shailesh Vara said the investment in digital technology for court centres was halted as soon as the consultation process for shutting 91 courts began.
The Ministry of Justice has opted to close 86 of the sites and has confirmed they had already been subject to the £1.35m investment.
In a written answer to parliament, Vara said: ‘The vast majority of this expenditure was in reusable hardware assets which will be reallocated to other sites within the HMCTS estate.
‘Additionally, the savings from the installations are expected to outweigh average installation costs by the time courts start to close.’
The government has secured around £700m from the Treasury to spend on upgrading technology and modernising the court estate. Some of the money will be allocated to video conferencing and online dispute resolution.
Speaking at a Westminster Hall debate on the closure of Lambeth County Court (pictured) yesterday, the minister assured MPs that upgrades should be in place to coincide with the court closures, meaning fewer people will have to physically be in court, although he could not give a precise date when the upgrades will be complete.
‘When you are putting in place a £700m-plus programme of court reform [opposition MPs have] to take it on trust we will do our damndest to make sure everything fits in and is timely and orderly because if [it does not] there will be one massively chaotic justice system.’
In a statement to the Gazette, Vara added: ‘The decision to close a court will never be taken lightly, but in the digital age I am confident we have measures in place to ensure access to justice is not diminished.’
Meanwhile, a Conservative police and crime commissioner has questioned the government’s suggestion that court closures will save money.
Anthony Stansfeld, PCC for Thames Valley, where courts in Aylesbury, Bicester and Newbury will all shut, said the decision will result in more failed cases as victims and witnesses face long journeys to attend hearings.
‘The decision to close these three courts may save the MoJ money in the short term, but it will cost the police money, do nothing for victims and witnesses, and is likely to result in yet more failed cases. It would seem to waste money rather than save it, at the expense of local criminal justice.’
The MoJ said the closure of courts will save the taxpayer £27m a year and raise £40m to reinvest in the justice system.