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Family and Magistrates Courts: Closures

Volume 649: debated on Tuesday 13 November 2018

17. What assessment his Department has made of the effect on (a) costs borne by partners, (b) magistracy diversity and (c) access to justice of the closure of family and magistrates courts. (907518)

Whenever we close courts, there is of course always a public consultation, and we always carefully consider the consequences of any closure. However, in circumstances where, in 2016-17, 41% of our courts and tribunals used less than half of their available hearing capacity; where any money from the proceeds of sale is reinvested back into the Courts Service; and where we are reforming our courts with technology and bringing them up to date, we have to ask ourselves whether spending money on physical buildings is always the best use of money in our legal justice system.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Will she commit to doing an evaluation of the impact that the closure of Scunthorpe magistrates court and family court will have on the costs of other services and the diversity of the magistracy sitting in Humberside?

I am very interested in considering whether it is appropriate to do that in relation to a particular court. In general terms, it is interesting that although we have closed courts since 2012, the magistracy has diversified slightly, so we still have more women and more black and minority ethnic magistrates than we did in 2012. In relation to the wider justice system and other agencies, I am pleased to have visited recently a police station in Lewisham and a prison in Durham to see how our agencies can work better together, using technology as we progress into the next stage of justice.

We are running very late but I want to hear the voice of Cleethorpes. I call Martin Vickers.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Like Scunthorpe, there are reports that Grimsby magistrates court, which serves the Cleethorpes area, is under threat of closure, with the possibility of cases being transferred to Hull, which is a round trip of 66 miles. Will the Minister give an absolute assurance that Grimsby is not under threat?

There is a consultation in relation to remand hearings at the moment, but I am happy to confirm that we are not considering closing Grimsby court.

The Conservative decision to cut 2,500 court staff has caused delays for victims and deterioration in the functioning of our courts, but that is just the start; the Conservatives plan to cut many more thousands of court staff in the next few years. Will the Minister commit today to halting those court staff cuts until this House has debated properly the court reform programme, which, to many, looks like a smokescreen for more austerity and which is being driven through without proper debate in this House and with the public?

In the justice system, we are reforming the courts. We are investing £1 billion in that process. That is not austerity. On staff, we are modernising and bringing in technology to make our systems work more effectively. That is in the interests of victims, witnesses and defendants. We are making our court processes much more effective. There are some reductions in staff as a result of that, but we are increasing access to justice.