It was announced last week that Michael Gove was looking to close St Helens Magistrates’ and County Court and many others throughout the UK over issues concerning not making full use of the courts “We are going to have to close some courts. Some are dramatically underused. The important test is to do so in a way which improves access to justice.” added Michael Gove and cited in the Law Gazette.
Michael Gove proposes to close down courts with very minimal use as the cost of running those could be spent elsewhere, however St. Helens court has 62% usage witch potential to be higher. During the last parliament 142 doors had their doors closed with Gove stating that there is still more work to be done “At a time when every government department has to find savings its makes more sense to deliver a more efficient court estate than, for example, make further big changes to the legal aid system,’ he added.
The process is now in the stage of consultation which will run until October the 8th.
David Bannister, trainee solicitor with Scott Rees & Co added “With the volume of work St. Helens Court takes in on a daily basis from myself and colleagues in this one firm and not withstanding many more in the area, to close courts across the country will put even more strain on the courts that will remain open. To close St Helens County Court will force other firms to send more work to those remaining courts such as the above. How this will create a more ‘efficient’ court system is anyone’s guess. One would also think that with the substantial increase in court fees being introduced earlier this year, the court system would not be as big a victim of the austerity measures seen across the board.”
The closest court from St. Helens is be Liverpool County Court, a court which will suddenly get a lot busier and potentially become overwhelmed. Defendants and witnesses could face an hour long journey to the next available court, which could be even more strain on an already stressful situation.
Lastly, closing the court will also lead to job cuts for those currently employed at the court, putting a further burden on an already struggling area of UK at the moment.
Shailesh Vara, minister for courts attempted to rationalise the decision by saying “Increased use of technology such as video, telephone and online conferencing will help drive these improvements. Straightforward, transactional matters, such as paying a fine and obtaining probate can be dealt with using digital technology to make the processes as straightforward as filing a tax return. Many straightforward cases do not need face-to-face hearings, which should be reserved for the most sensitive or complex cases.”
Is Your Local Court Facing Closure?
The Mirror have posted a list of potential courts under threat which can be found here.