Friday 17th July 2015
The government is consulting on plans to close 91 courts and tribunals in England and Wales. The aim is to reduce what Justice Secretary Michael Gove has identified as "surplus capacity". Courts under threat include 57 magistrates' courts, 19 county courts, two crown courts, four tribunal hearing centres and nine combined courts. The government has also announced it is "integrating" a further 31 tribunals in England and Wales. In a written statement, the parliamentary under-secretary of state for courts and legal aid, Shailesh Vara, said the service's estate was "underused" and cost the taxpayer about £500m every year. He said better access to justice could only be provided if "difficult decisions" were taken to reduce the cost of the estate and reinvest the savings. Technology such as video, telephone and online conferencing would reduce the need for face-to-face hearings, which should be reserved for "the most sensitive or complex cases", Mr Vara said. In rural locations, public buildings, such as town halls, could be used for hearings instead of "underused, poorly-maintained permanent courts", he suggested. He said that after the changes, more than 95% of citizens would still be able to reach their required court within an hour by car. The consultation will run for 12 weeks until 8 October.
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