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County Courts

Volume 890: debated on Monday 21 April 1975

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43.

asked the Attorney-General if he will make a statement on the progress of the discussions being held by the Lord Chancellor's Department concerning the restructuring of county courts.

My noble Friend has asked his circuit administrators to carry out a review of the number and location of the county courts in each circuit. The circuit administrators are now engaged in consultations with local bodies. On completion of these they will submit their recommendations to my noble Friend.

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that answer. W ill he give an assurance that he will use his influence to resist any proposals from the circuit administrators which will make the county courts more remote and access to them more difficult? Does he agree that any action on those lines would tend to destroy the good work done to make access to the county courts easier for most people and, in particular, will he seek the views of local people involved before he agrees to any proposals which will abolish county court districts?

I think I can give my hon. Friend reassurance on those matters. The review is the necessary consequence of changes in local government boundaries brought about by the Local Government Act 1972, and one of the primary factors being considered is—as it must be—convenience to the public. I am sure that all those who are in any way concerned with the matter will be consulted.

I am sure the House will be very glad to have heard the right hon. and learned Gentleman's assurance that the convenience of the public will be a high priority in this consideration. All too often, as he knows, administrative convenience tends to come first. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House what area of consultation is proposed? It is important, if the convenience of the public is to be considered, for consultation to be on a very wide basis. Has the right hon. and learned Gentleman any idea when we shall receive a report upon these matters?

I do not think I can go beyond the answer which I have already given—that all those who have a contribution to make towards a decision in this matter are being considered by my noble Friend. That will be, and indeed is, very much on the basis of convenience to the public as a major priority. I am afraid I cannot tell the hon. and learned Gentleman offhand when this review is expected to be completed, but I shall certainly make further inquiries and give the best estimate I can, in letter form.