Magistrate Court Closures

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 8th September 2015.

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Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Conservative, Corby 11:30 am, 8th September 2015

What assessment his Department has made of the effect on travelling distances and catchment areas when considering closures of magistrates courts.

Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Under the current consultation proposals, it will still be the case that over 95% of citizens will be able to reach their required court within an hour by car, a change of just 1% for Crown and magistrates courts and 2% for county courts. The proportion able to reach a tribunal within an hour by car will remain unchanged at 83%.

Photo of Tom Pursglove Tom Pursglove Conservative, Corby

If Corby magistrates court is closed, some of my constituents in Corby and east Northamptonshire would have to drive for more than an hour to get to the nearest magistrates court, and many of those journeys would be impossible by public transport. I am very grateful to the Minister for agreeing to meet me and local magistrates to talk about this, but what consideration has been given to this particular problem in Corby?

Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

As my hon. Friend says, we have corresponded about this problem and we have agreed to meet some of his constituents. I reassure him that this is a genuine consultation and that no decisions have been taken. If he has concerns, I very much hope that he and his constituents will make submissions to the consultation, which I assure him will be given very careful consideration. I hope he will contribute to that.

Photo of Ann Coffey Ann Coffey Labour, Stockport

The consultation document on proposed court closures in Greater Manchester discusses the future use of non-court buildings, which I would support, particularly for pre-recording the cross-examination of evidence from vulnerable child witnesses. Will the Minister give us more detail of his thoughts, because it is important for the protection of vulnerable witnesses that the right courts are closed in the right places?

Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for echoing the support for what we are trying to achieve. We are not setting any limitations at the moment; we are in listening mode. Where there is an under-utilised court, I envisage facilities being used for a couple of days in a town hall, for example. Perhaps the chamber or another available room may be rented. It does not have to be a public or civic building, but such buildings come to mind instantly. Currently, people can go to nearby facilities and give evidence via video conferencing so that they do not have to go to court, which is particularly helpful for vulnerable witnesses and victims.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Minister (Justice)

The Minister should listen to Members from all parts of the House on this issue. Although he says that this is a consultation, he is already assuming that an hour by car is a reasonable distance. Of course, many people, particularly in rural areas, do not have access to a car. Cases in magistrates courts are taking a week longer than they did four years ago and dozens of magistrates are resigning over the unworkable courts charge. Is not the Government destroying local justice?

Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The hon. Gentleman speaks about listening. Perhaps he might take his own advice and do some listening as well. The Government are proposing to undertake a once-in-a-generation reform of the courts system and estate. It would be helpful if he co-operated and supported us in achieving what will be of ultimate benefit to the consumer and the public. They will benefit by getting faster and better justice, and Britain will remain world renowned for legal services.