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HM Courts Service Estates

Volume 497: debated on Tuesday 13 October 2009

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.

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. Having carefully considered this, and following a recommendation from the HM Courts Service Board, I am today announcing our intention to consult on the closure of the following 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

Leigh County Court

Louth Magistrates Court

Midenhall Magistrates Court

Minehead Magistrates Court

Sherbone Magistrates Court

Sleaford Magistrates Court

Stamford Magistrates Court

Wantage Magistrates Court

Wareham Magistrates Court

Wells Magistrates Court

Whitby Magistrates Court

Widnes Magistrates Court

The majority of these courts are currently significantly under utilised. Local representative groups, including members of the judiciary and HMCS staff, have been consulted and as a result decisions have already been taken not to list any work in these courts. In all cases there are alternative courts within a reasonable travelling distance where services will continue to be provided.

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 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 at the taxpayers’ expense.

I am keen to hear the views of court users and other interested parties; the consultation exercises will allow them to express their views on the proposals. I will make a decision on how to proceed after consideration of those representations.

Following an earlier consultation exercise on the future of Nelson County Court, I have decided that the court should be closed. I have come to that conclusion based on the arguments set out in the consultation paper and the view of the majority respondents that the court should close.

Today we are also publishing a discussion paper of the future provision of magistrates court in London. This paper is aimed at court users and other people affected by the provision of magistrates courts services in London having regard to the possibilities presented by virtual courts. It will form a basis for HMCS managers to discuss how magistrates court services should best be arranged to meet the needs of the communities they serve. The conclusions from this will form the basis of a formal consultation on a proposed way forward. The paper is available on the Ministry of Justice website (http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications.htm). Together these proposals set out a positive step forward to ensuring that HMCS provides sufficient accessibility whilst directing and prioritising its resources to where they most matter for the communities it serves.

The consultation documents and the response to the consultation paper on Nelson County Court will be published on the Ministry of Justice website. Copies will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses, and in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.