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Volume 547: debated on Tuesday 3 July 2012

The Government will shortly publish plans on improving the criminal justice system, including by reinforcing the important role of magistrates.

The magistracy is one of the great glories of the English legal system, and Hereford magistrates court is a case in point. Will the Minister give some reassurance that there are no plans to change the services at Hereford magistrates court or to close it?

I agree with my hon. Friend about the value of magistrates. They are lay people who give of their time, and the community justice that they dispense is an important feature of our criminal justice system. That is too little acknowledged. As the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr Blunt) said, we continually review the estate to ensure that it is well utilised, but we have no current plans to close Hereford magistrates court.

Is the Minister aware that over many years and under many Governments the magistracy has been run down? It has been run down because so many local courts have been closed. Once the link between being a magistrate and the local community is broken, it no longer works. What is he going to do about that?

The hon. Gentleman should reflect on the fact that one of the issues that magistrates are most concerned about is the growth of out-of-court disposals, which soared under the last Government in response to the target culture. We continue to have concerns about the inappropriate use of such disposals. He should reflect on the role of the previous Government in undermining the magistracy.