Continuing the trend to try to bury bad news on the last day before MPs break for recess, the Tories today confirmed that 86 courts and tribunals are to be closed in England and Wales.
Without giving MPs the opportunity to question the decision, Justice Minister Shailesh Vara confirmed in a written statement that 86 of the 91 courts and tribunals proposed for closure in last year’s consultation will now face closure.
Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards called for an oral statement and said the decision not to do so showed the Tories’ “disdain for transparency and openness with the public; avoiding scrutiny on such a significant and far-reaching issue which will have an direct impact on many communities.”
Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of PCS, the union representing the majority of court workers, said closures would “seriously undermine access to local courts that is crucial not only for the administration of justice but also public confidence in the justice system”.
“The plans are not being driven by need or what will work, but by a political choice to cut public spending.
“It is impossible to know whether the government’s case on better use of technology stacks up because these decisions are being taken before it has been properly developed and tested.”
The government is using usage figures as a reason for many of the closures. However, Chichester Combined Court, which serves a population of 800,000 people and has been described as the England’s busiest doomed court is one of those confirmed for closure.
What the government conveniently ignores is the fact that they are responsible for making it harder for people to access our courts. Policies like cuts to legal aid and increased court fees are removing people’s right to local access to justice.
Court rooms may be being underused but that’s often down to a shortage of staff and Judges rather than hearings. Since 2010 the Courts and Tribunals Service has been cut by 5,000 staff and is set to lose a further 5,000 to 6,000 by 2020.
A petition to stop the closures has been launched and has so far received over 500 signatures.