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HM Courts Service Estates

Justice written statement – made on 18th March 2010.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

The Government are committed to ensuring that everyone has access to justice and that justice is provided locally. We need to ensure that we have a modern court estate that is properly aligned to where services are needed, that the estate is efficiently utilised and that courts have the necessary facilities for victims and witnesses and to allow proper access for court users with disabilities. On 13 October I announced full public consultations on the closure of a number of under used courts.

The Government must always look to ensure there is an effective and efficient system to deliver justice so that we can continue to provide these vital public services at a level that offers real value for money for the taxpayer. Therefore, after careful consideration and following the public consultations, I am today announcing the closure of the following underused courts:

Bourne Magistrates Court

Bridport Magistrates Court

Cheshunt Magistrates Court

Cullompton Magistrates Court

Dorking Magistrates Court

Eastleigh Magistrates Court

Gainsborough Magistrates Court

Havant Magistrates Court

Launceston Magistrates Court

Louth Magistrates Court

Mildenhall Magistrates Court

Minehead Magistrates Court

Sherborne Magistrates Court

Sleaford Magistrates Court

Stamford Magistrates Court

Wantage Magistrates Court

Wareham Magistrates Court

Wells Magistrates Court

Whitby Magistrates Court

Widnes Magistrates Court

I have not yet made a final decision on the proposed closure of Leigh County Court. I am still considering this matter, and will make an announcement in due course.

It is right that going to court should not place undue stress on the victims and witnesses of crime. Her Majesty's Courts Service has made significant improvements in the facilities for these court users over recent years. These improvements have helped to make giving evidence in court less stressful. We need to ensure that court buildings have suitable facilities for all court users. Many of the courts listed above are significantly under-utilised and do not have adequate facilities for victims and witnesses. In addition, a number of the buildings do not allow adequate access for disabled court users. Due to the low utilisation rates and in some courts, physical constraints, I do not believe it would provide good value for money to spend taxpayers' money to bring these buildings up to the required standard.

Magistrates courts developed in certain locations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when areas of local government (then responsible for these courts) were much smaller and transport links were elementary. It is no longer necessary to have a court in every small town. This was recognised by many of the former Magistrates Courts Committees who made a very significant number of closures. Successive Governments have in recent decades had to undertake closure programmes. Since 1997, the Government, with this announcement, will have closed 171 courts, compared with 450 courts which were closed between 1979 to 1997. Our plans ensure that communities have access to good quality local courts within a reasonable travelling distance. We have considered the suitability and proximity of nearby courts which can meet the needs of the community. Most of the courts affected are not currently hearing cases. Therefore, cases in that area have been heard at a nearby court which has not caused significant disruption to court users. In many cases the better facilities available have improved their experience at court.

The consultation papers asked respondents to comment on any impacts that closure may have. In the light of the responses received, I am confident that the closures will not have a significant adverse impact on the provision of local justice. Indeed, as many respondents noted, these closures will assist the delivery of modern justice services and provide communities with better, more efficient facilities.

The responses to the consultation papers will be published on the Ministry of Justice website. Copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses, in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.