Just shy of 90 underused courts will close across the country, including 10 in London, following the conclusion of a Ministry of Justice consultation today.
The Ministry originally opened a consultation on the provision of court and tribunal estate last July to review the fate of 91 courts and tribunals. It considered over 2,000 responses alongside 13 petitions before arriving at the decision to close 86 courts.
"On average, the 86 courts we are closing are used for just over a third of their available hearing time," Shailesh Vara, minister for the courts and legal aid, wrote in a statement. "That is equivalent to less than two days a week. It will still be the case that after these closures, over 97 per cent of citizens will be able to reach their required court within an hour by car."
The courts are expected to close at various dates in 2016 and 2017.
The following courts in London will shut; Bow County Court, Feltham Magistrates’ Court, Greenwich Magistrates’ Court, Hammersmith County Court, Lambeth County Court, Pocock Street Tribunal Hearing Centre, Richmond-upon-Thames Magistrates’ Court, Tottenham Magistrates’ Court, Waltham Forest Magistrates’ Court and Woolwich County Court.
The Ministry of Justice argued that the chronic problem of underused courts – 48 per cent of all courts and tribunals were empty at least half the time they could have been in use last year – is preventing it from modernising the court system.
"Court closures are difficult decisions; local communities have strong allegiances to their local courts and I understand their concerns," Vara stated. "But changes to the estate are vital if we are to modernise a system which everybody accepts is unwieldy, inefficient, slow, expensive to maintain and unduly bureaucratic."
However, Jonathan Smithers, The Law Society president, expressed his organisation's disappointment at the news, remarking: "Combined with increases in court fees and reductions in eligibility for legal aid, many of the closures will serve to deepen the inequalities in the justice system between those who can and cannot afford to pay."