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Axe set to fall on local courts

Local people are being asked for their views on plans to close almost 100 courts in England and Wales.

HM Courts & Tribunals Service, the body that manages the operation of courts and tribunals in England and Wales, launched a consultation on its proposals to shut 91 courts, 57 of them magistrates’ courts, on 16 July.

The service, which is responsible for 460 court and tribunal buildings, plus other administrative and support buildings, said: “The courts and tribunals estate costs taxpayers approximately £500 million each year.

“Last year over a third of all courts and tribunals were empty for more than 50 per cent of their available hearing time. This consultation puts forward proposals that aim to reduce surplus capacity by closing those courts and tribunals that are unused or underused, or that are simply unsuitable for the services we need to provide from them.

“This consultation is an opportunity to stand back and reconsider the existing arrangements and to rationalise the estate so that best value for money is provided for users and taxpayers alike.”

The service said that after the changes, a court would still be within an hour’s car journey for more than 95 per cent of people and a tribunal for 83 per cent of people.

It added: “To ensure that access to justice is maintained, even in more rural locations, we are committed to providing alternative ways for users to access our services. That can mean using civic and other public buildings, such as town halls, for hearings instead of underused, poorly-maintained permanent courts.”

The proposals have attracted opposition in areas where courts are set to close. Dartford MP Gareth Johnson said that if Dartford Magistrates’ Court in Kent were to close as proposed, it would cause “significant difficulties for witnesses, police officers and other court users.”

And magistrates are campaigning against the closure of Workington Magistrates’ Court, whichwould mean defendants and witnesses from west Cumbria having to travel to Carlisle, with round trips of up to 90 miles.

The consultation closes on 8 October.