A pioneering court and offender treatment centre is to close despite a recent increase in its workload.
Justice minister Shailesh Vara announced that North Liverpool Community Justice Centre will shut its doors next spring, following a consultation on the future of the court. Its work will be transferred to Sefton Magistrates’ Court, less than two miles away.
Vara said that the original proposals had been ‘revised’ in light of the consultation responses. Youth and education welfare cases with be dealt with by Liverpool Youth Court and Liverpool and Knowsley Magistrates’ Courts respectively.
The justice centre has operated from its Boundary Street site, a former primary school, since September 2005. It offers a ‘one-stop shop’ for offenders, bringing together a magistrates’, youth and Crown court with other criminal justice agencies and a range of problem-solving and medical services, such as drug and alcohol services.
Announcing a six-week consultation on the centre’s closure in July, then justice minister Helen Grant said its workload had fallen to the extent that the centre was ‘under-utilised’ and it had become ‘increasingly difficult’ to justify its continued operation.
The government’s consultation response, issued by HM Courts and Tribunals Service and the Ministry of justice, said the court’s workload had increased since April this year, although it had previously fallen by 41% between April 2007 and November 2012. In the 12 months to March 2013 the centre completed an average of 128 cases a month. From April to July 2013, this increased by 31% to an average of 168 cases.
The response revealed that the centre’s courtroom utilisation rate stood at 55% for the 12 months to March 2013, increasing to an average of 71% in the financial year to July 2013.
Despite the increased use, the response said ‘as a single courtroom site with what remains a relatively low volume of work, the ongoing costs of the centre means that over time it will not provide value for money’.
HMCTS said closure of the centre will save £630,000 a year, whereas maintaining it would mean a continuation of costs of £930,000 a year and the cost of operating the court for a further three years, including necessary maintenance work, which is said would be ‘well in excess’ of £2m.
The response says HMCTS considers the proposed savings would outweigh any perceived benefits from continuing to operate the centre.
It stressed the ethos and principles developed at the centre will be replicated at Sefton Magistrates’ Court, which it says has a reputation for innovative work.
The consultation received 18 responses; five of which supported closure, three were neutral and 10, including one from the Bishop of Liverpool, opposed the plans.
The Rt Rev James Jones pointed to the speed at which cases are dealt with at the centre – on average 26 days, compared with a national average of 147 days.
The Crown Prosecution Service felt the proposals would have a positive impact on its court resources by cutting the number of sites to attend.
It is HMCTS’s intention to give notice of the lease break on the building on 28 October, with the lease break taking place on 28 April 2014. The last sitting day at the centre will be 28 March 2014.