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Magistrates Courts

Volume 403: debated on Tuesday 8 April 2003

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If she will make a statement on the Greater London Magistrates' Courts Authority consultation on court closures. [107456]

The GLMCA is the magistrates court committee responsible for the running of magistrates courts in London and for the opening and closing of court buildings in the capital. Ministers are involved only where there are appeals from local authorities. I can today announce that I have accepted the appeal against the closure of Kingston magistrates court.

I thank the Minister on behalf of others for her decision. I look forward to the possibility of further appeals in the process of court closure reviews by the GLMCA. I ask her to consider the accountability arrangements for the GLMCA, not least the fact that it is not clear how it is held to account for decisions that it takes in private, it refuses to release information to Members about the basis for its decisions, and it thus makes the consultation process a mockery. Will she explain how I, as a Member, can gain access to this organisation, can hold it to account and can ensure that the public can be confident that its decisions are based on sound grounds?

I am happy to look into the hon. Gentleman's specific concerns if he wants to write to me. It is right that the GLMCA should take a strategic view in respect of court buildings throughout London. He will know that because appeals come to Ministers it would be inappropriate for me to comment on individual cases before the appeals are heard. I agree that we need to improve the accountability of local decision making. That is one of the reasons why we want, as part of the unified administration, the courts' administration councils not simply to have local magistrates on them but a wider range of members from the local community.

I thank the Minister most warmly for her statement, especially the excellent news that Kingston magistrates court is not to close. The hon. Lady knows the strength of feeling on this matter in my constituency, not least because of our correspondence and our meetings. I am delighted that she listened to the strong arguments that were so skilfully marshalled by the chairman of the bench, Ian Rathjen. Will she accept our thanks for this welcome decision and accept my open invitation to her to visit the local courthouse whenever she has the opportunity to do so? Will she say a little more about the future options for building on Kingston's growing reputation as a regional centre of excellence for the bench?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. He has made representations to me, as have some of my hon. Friends. We had serious concerns that Wimbledon court would not have the capacity to take all the additional cases if Kingston court closed. We also took into account the convenient location of Kingston court, which is so close to the Crown court and the police station, as well as the convenience for local people. Of course, every individual decision must be taken on its merits. I shall certainly consider the hon. Gentleman's invitation to visit Kingston.