The government’s decision to axe nearly a fifth of the country’s courts and tribunals will put the justice system under pressure and cause disruption to witnesses, magistrates and defendants.
That’s the view of Gotelee Solicitors following the announcement by HM Courts and Tribunals Service yesterday that 86 of England and Wales’s courts would close.
The decision, which ministers claim will reduce the annual £500m cost of the courts estate, will leave Suffolk with only one magistrate court, in Ipswich.
The result is that many of those who are required to attend court, which includes witnesses, will have to travel more than an hour to get there.
The Law Society, the Magistrates’ Association and Resolution, which represents 6,500 family lawyers in England and Wales, have all condemned the move as ill-thought out.
And it is a perspective shared by Gotelee who’s clients from Crime, Family, Employment, Dispute Resolution, Personal Injury will be particularly affected.
Hugh Rowland, a partner at the firm, said the system of local justice was likely to suffer as a result.
“The criminal justice system has sustained unprecedented cuts and detrimental reforms in recent years – and the Ministry of Justice’s decision to close more courts and tribunals is just the latest example.
“The closures will put huge pressure on the courts that remain open. In Suffolk, we will be left with only one magistrates’ court and the potential impact is deeply concerning.
“The government claims efficiency savings are at the heart of all this. But what of the cost to witnesses, magistrates, defendants, and their representatives, who will now be forced to travel many miles and waste many hours for even the most minor of cases?
“Is this really acting in the interests of justice?”
Aside from the closures in Lowestoft and Bury St Edmunds, Colchester County Court and Family Court will also close.
The government has published a schedule for the closures, with six phases planned between now and September 2017.
Malcolm Richardson, national chairman of the Magistrates’ Association, told the BBC many of its members would be “very worried” about the impact of the closures.
“There will be inevitable additional pressure on the system and the paramount concern of magistrates is for accessible justice to be protected,” he said.
The latest closures follow the axing of other magistrates’ court in the county in recent years, including those in Felixstowe, Haverhill, Newmarket, Saxmundham, Stowmarket, Mildenhall and Sudbury.
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