New IT systems and services are being developed both for magistrates courts and county courts. The Libra system will link together all magistrates courts and allow links into other criminal justice agencies. On 15 January. I published a consultation paper on the development of IT in the civil courts, which I trust the hon. Member has read. I look forward to his response.
I thank the Minister for that invitation to read his document. I shall read it assiduously because his Department's proposals for rural courthouses in my constituency are very poor indeed. The proposal to close two or three courthouses in Ceredigion is at least being fought by the local county council. It has made an interesting suggestion on the use of IT to support rural courthouses: a main courthouse for the county, with satellite courthouses linked by IT systems. Will the Minister welcome that? Will he also give an assurance that financial considerations will not stand in the way of such additional and innovative solutions, which may deliver justice to rural areas? Finally, following his consultation paper, will he tell us what guidance he is likely to produce to encourage magistrates courts committees to look beyond financial questions and consider innovative solutions?
The purpose of magistrates courts is to deliver justice. I am sure that local justice is an important consideration, whether in the hon. Gentleman's constituency or in any part of the United Kingdom. I am grateful to the county council for its co-operation and for taking advantage of the opportunities presented by IT. That is precisely what the consultation paper is all about, as he will see when he gets around to reading it. I know that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, who will consider the appeal in due course, will consider those matters seriously. I am grateful for all the work that has gone into ensuring that a large measure of local justice is still delivered in the hon. Gentleman's constituency.
The hon. Gentleman is concerned about the closure of magistrates courts, but such decisions are taken by local magistrates courts committees under legislation passed by the previous Conservative Government. As for the county courts, the strategy in the "Modernising the Civil Courts" Green Paper is aimed at increasing the number of places at which hearings can take place to increase the availability of local justice, not to close courts. The strategy is to develop local justice, not to restrict it.