Court Reform: Delivering Better Justice

By: Information Daily Staff Writer
Published: Thursday, December 16, 2010 - 10:54 GMT Jump to Comments

Reform of the court estate will help deliver a modern, efficient justice system with victims and witnesses at its centre, Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly said today.

Following full public consultations on proposals to close 103 magistrates' courts and 54 county courts in England and Wales, the Government has decided that 93 magistrates' courts and 49 county courts will be closed.

Mr Djanogly today also announced that £22m of capital will be reinvested to improve and modernise the courts to which work will transfer as a result of the closures. Within this are three large projects in London, at Camberwell Green Magistrates' Court, in Staffordshire at Newcastle-under-Lyme Magistrates' Court, and in Wales at Prestatyn Magistrates' Court.

This is part of the Government's drive to have a better justice system - one that is more efficient, more intelligent, responds better to the needs of local communities and crucially is on the side of – not against – victims and witnesses.

Her Majesty's Courts Service currently operates out of 530 courts, many of which do not meet the needs of modern communities. Their number and location does not reflect recent changes in population, workload or transport and communication links over the many years since they were originally opened.

Mr Djanogly said:

'Access to justice is not just about access to buildings. It's about the type of justice delivered, decent facilities for victims and witnesses and efficient use of the system.

'Our court estate has simply not kept pace with the changing nature of our society or with the demands modern society places on our justice system. An estate of over 500 court buildings is not now necessary or sustainable, nor is it a reasonable expense for the taxpayer.

'We are closing the worst courts in the estate - so we can concentrate our limited resources on the best ones. We are investing in the court estate with new buildings and with refurbishment of facilities.

'We have listened to the significant points made by respondents to the consultation. As a result we have decided not to close 15 courts which were included in the consultation.

'There will be longer journeys for some to their closest court but we should not operate courts just to shave minutes off a journey that many will never need to make.'

An estimated £41.5m of savings for the taxpayer will be realised across the spending period as a result of the closures, alongside a possible £38.5m from the sale of assets. Substantial savings will be made from not having to maintain so many buildings and there will be efficiency savings for other justice agencies by focusing their attendance at a single accessible location within a community.

Plans to build a new magistrates' court in Liverpool have been cancelled as the project has become unaffordable in the current financial climate. We will be exploring other options to address the magistrates provision in Liverpool across the Spending Review period.

Jonathan Djanogly continued:

'Reform of the courts and court estate, allied with the reforms of sentencing and rehabilitation, and changes to the system of legal aid that the Government has announced will make a more intelligent, more proportionate and much more cost-effective justice system.

'We have already set out how we intend to make better use of technology. We plan to give witnesses the opportunity to give evidence in trials by live video link from a more convenient location. We will begin this in January with a pilot to test the principle of police officers giving evidence in summary trials by live video link from a police station. This will save the police time and money and free up officers to spend more time on patrol.

'We also want to give communities a greater say in how justice is administered in their areas. We will consult on the use of Neighbourhood Justice Panels to deal with low-level cases, empowering people to develop their own solutions to local problems, and increasing community confidence.'

Tim Godwin, Deputy Commissioner Metropolitan Police Service, said:

'All public services are reviewing their operations to reduce costs and maximise resources. The HMCS are no different and I support them in their efforts, reducing the court estate is inevitable. I particularly welcome the initiative of police officers giving evidence by video link to reduce police travel and wasted time at court. It is clear evidence of the criminal justice agencies working together to maximise our effort.'

Keir Starmer QC, Director of Public Prosecutions said:

'The CPS supports the rationalisation of the courts estate as a part of a wider strategy to promote greater efficiency across the whole Criminal Justice System. We believe a smaller number of magistrates court centres will bring greater efficiencies and make savings. It also is vital that the best possible facilities are available for all court users and especially for victims and witnesses. Limited resources mean that difficult decisions have to be made. We feel the right proposals have been made ensuring facilities of the highest quality are available in a reduced number of fully utilised court centres. The plan offers the opportunity to deliver public services of the highest quality and, at the same time, promotes value for money'.

In the case of each court closure a full implementation plan will be produced to ensure the smooth transfer of court business.

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