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Court Closures

Volume 642: debated on Tuesday 5 June 2018

7. What assessment his Department has made of the effect of court closures on access to justice. (905583)

We are looking at a number of ways to reform and improve our justice system through technology, through our court estate and through people. We are spending £1 billion to upgrade our justice system. In 2016-17, 41% of courts and tribunals were used at less than half of their available hearing capacity. In circumstances where money raised from the sale of any court building will be reinvested into our justice system, it is appropriate to ask whether spending on physical buildings is the best use of money.

It is hardly surprising that towns like Scunthorpe feel that they are being left behind by this Government when it is our courts and magistrates courts that close. It is always things in our towns that close, even before the new technologies that need to be in place have been properly evaluated and investigated. When will the Minister evaluate the impact of these court closures on communities, and when will she evaluate the effectiveness of new technologies?

I am aware that the hon. Gentleman’s court was closed in December 2016, and I have read his detailed response to the consultation from October 2015. I understand that, when courts are closed in a particular area, the people in that area feel particularly affected, but I assure him that, as we bring in video technology, we are assessing the use of that technology and trying to improve it at every stage.

The Minister is aware of my concerns about the closure of Banbury court. What steps has she taken to investigate the use of other public buildings for court services?

My hon. Friend has raised her potential court closure with me on a number of occasions. I have also read her response to the recent consultation, in which she raises a number of points, including the one she has just identified. We will look at using other buildings in the community.

The recent National Audit Office report on the courts programme says:

“Expected costs have increased and planned benefits have decreased.”

Given that the National Audit Office says the courts programme will now cost £1.2 billion—£200 million more than the Government previously stated—will it lead to even deeper cuts elsewhere in the Ministry of Justice’s budget?

The hon. Lady highlights the ambition of the programme, which the NAO report identifies. It is a very ambitious programme, and it is right to be ambitious about our justice system. The NAO report acknowledges the early progress that has been made and makes recommendations about how we can strengthen the process. We will be taking all those recommendations on board.