Skip to main content

Magistrates Courts

Volume 514: debated on Tuesday 20 July 2010

5. How many representations he has received (a) in favour of and (b) against his recent proposals to close a number of magistrates courts; and if he will make a statement. (9415)

We are four weeks into a 12-week public consultation process. As such, the responses to each of the 16 consultation papers have not yet been collated and analysed. This will happen once the consultation closes on 15 September. However, I can confirm that, as of 15 June, there had been 20 letters to Ministers in this Department from hon. Members and Welsh Assembly Members regarding the proposals. Two Adjournment debates on the consultations have also been held.

I am grateful for that detailed response. I have the great pleasure and honour to represent the good people of Dwyfor Meirionnydd, which is 100 miles from north to south and 90 miles from east to west. It currently has two magistrates courts. Under the Government’s plans, however, that will be down to one, making a complete and utter mockery of any idea of local justice. May I ask the Minister to think again and consider carefully—and I mean carefully—all the consultations and replies he gets? In the meantime, will he ask his right hon. and learned colleague, the Secretary of State for Justice, to extend the consultation period, because in my 20 years in this place I have never known a serious consultation to take place during August?

The hon. Gentleman says we should think again, but we are thinking—we are in a consultation process, to which he is entitled and welcome to make comments. There is one court in his constituency on whose closure we are consulting. It is envisaged that work from this court will be transferred to Caernarfon magistrates court, which is approximately 20 miles away. The court in question has a very low utilisation rate, at just 28.9%. It sits two days per week in one courtroom and its facilities are generally considered to be inadequate.

Will the Minister take into account, when making a decision on the closure of the magistrates courts, the facilities and the wider social implications of individual court closures? Barry magistrates court has separate entrances for witnesses and defendants, which is an important consideration in a range of cases, particularly those of domestic violence. Will that sort of issue be a factor?

We remain committed to supporting local justice being administered in magistrates courts, but my hon. Friend would be wrong to confuse community justice, access to justice, efficient justice, speedy summary justice or timely administration with bricks and mortar.