More than 150 magistrates’ courts and county courts in England and Wales could be closed to save money, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has announced.
In a move which has prompted concerns about the impact on an already overstretched family courts system, the MoJ launched a consultation today on whether to shut 103 magistrates’ courts and 54 county courts to save nearly £37m.
England and Wales has 530 courts and the MoJ is targeting “underused and inadequate” buildings, including courts in Greater Manchester, Lincolnshire and London.
However, Margaret Wilson, chair of the family courts committee at the Magistrates Association, said she was concerned about what the consultation could mean for the future of the family courts. Wilson said closing courts could put more pressure on a system already overwhelmed by the increasing number of care applications.
A statement from the MA said the organisation viewed the proposals “with caution”.
“Over the last three years magistrates’ courts have seen cuts in budgets of 7.5% each year, resulting in fewer courts due to staff shortages [and delays]. These proposals could mean that many court users may have long journeys to court – a disincentive to attend, resulting in further delays and extra expense,” the statement said.
Courts minister Jonathan Djanogly said he wanted to explore alternative and “more satisfactory” ways to resolve disputes, including the use of technology. “We need to look at whether, through more effective use of video and telephone links and other technology, including online services, we can improve the public’s experience of the justice system.”
The MoJ is also consulting on the merger of a number of local justice areas to ease the proposed changes. Djanogly said this would allow magistrates in the areas affected “to be deployed more flexibly and allow them the opportunity to provide their expertise and experience to a wider community”.