Lord chancellor Michael Gove has confirmed plans to close two Welsh magistrates’ courts, marking the first stage of reducing the courts estate.
Last month, Gove announced plans to close courts that were not being used to capacity.
A consultation was started last July by Gove’s predecessor Chris Grayling to look into the future of courts in Abergavenny and Caerphilly.
Despite the majority of responses to the consultation opposing closure, Gove said significant savings can be made by closing the courts and moving the majority of the workload to courts in Newport and Cwmbran.
The consultation response said: ‘The proposal will enable HM Courts & Tribunals Service to reduce its underused, surplus estate and provide better facilities for all users in larger centres while retaining access to justice in Newport and Cwmbran where excellent transport links are available.
‘This would result in increased court utilisation; more efficient and effective disposal of criminal business; and better value for money for the taxpayer.’
The consultation response said retaining Abergavenny Magistrates’ Court was ‘not considerably viable’ when it has a backlog maintenance bill of £210,000.
Seven years ago, £463,000 was spent on the building for health and safety reasons and for general maintenance, but despite the investment, utilisation was 21% in 2013/14 and nil in 2014/15.
Similarly for Caerphilly, the court was used less than half the time in 2013/14 and was used just 14% of the time in 2014/15.
Investment required in the cells area is estimated at £1.2m, in addition to £27,000 worth of repairs to the ceiling in court one.
Of the 31 responses to the consultation, more than half of which were from local magistrates, four supported shutting Abergavenny and five backed shutting Caerphilly. Supporters of the plan said there had been no issues for users of either court travelling to the proposed alternatives.
But objectors said the plans will increase travel costs and time for those in North Gwent and would reduce access to local courts. A number of magistrates raised concerns about recruitment and retention of magistrates in the future.
The Ministry of Justice said it will keep under review the number of sittings by magistrates.
The government is expected to begin a wider consultation on the court estate in England and Wales in the coming months.