It has now been confirmed that the vast majority of the courts named previously by the government on a list of those under threat will, in fact, be closed. Of the 91 courts on the list, the Ministry of Justice announced this month, only five will remain open.
The remaining 86 courts are to face closure. Of these, 64 are to undergo closure through the exact process outlined in last year’s consultation document, in which the list of threatened courts was first published. The remaining 22 are still to face closure, but with changes to the processes and schedules originally outlined in the consultation document.
One of the five courts to remain open will still be subject to a partial closure. The magistrates’ court at St Helens County Court will be closed, while the rest of the court will not. The courts in Bath, Carmarthen, Stockport, and West Cumbria, on the other hand, will remain fully open despite being named as candidates for closure in the original consultation.
The 86 courts will be closed at various times, with all of them ceasing to operate within the next two years. The government has published the schedule for all courts facing closure online.
The courts that have now been confirmed for closure represent around a fifth of all courts in England and Wales. The list includes various kinds of court including magistrates courts, county courts, tribunal centres and family courts, and covers locations around the country.
Shailesh Vara, the Justice Minister, maintains that the closure of these courts will not seriously hamper the UK justice system’s ability to provide “high-quality service” and “effective access to justice” to the public.
According to Vara, after the closures 97% of the UK public, when required to attend court, will be able to get there by car within one hour. 83% will be able to reach a tribunal within the same time frame. While he expressed sympathy for local communities with “strong allegiances to their local courts,” he said that the closures represented an important step towards the modernisation of the current justice system, which he said, “everybody accepts is unwieldy, inefficient, slow, expensive to maintain and unduly bureaucratic.”
Nonetheless, some are disappointed with the news that as few as five of the 91 threatened courts are to remain open. Previously, the Law Society made a case for keeping a significantly larger number of the courts in operation, saying that there was good cause to retain 59 of those on the list.
Jonathan Smithers, president of the Law Society said: “The majority of these closures will make it more difficult for a significant number of people to get to court, disproportionately affecting people living in rural areas, those with disabilities and lower income families.”