So 86 courts are to close. The Written Ministerial Statement asserts that “over 97% of citizens will be able to reach their required court within an hour by car”. Putting aside the fact that 22% of women and 17% of men live in a household without a car and 65% of single pensioners lack a car. the underlying decision to close local courts is troubling. It represents a gradual move from a system where justice takes place in a community to one where it is imposed upon a community from afar.
JUSTICE IN THE COMMUNITY
Some time ago I was instructed by a local authority who wanted to evict disruptive tenants from a local estate. This was well before the age of the ASBO. It involved a large number of people from their estate coming to court in Halifax and giving evidence for the claimant. The witnesses who attended on the claimant’s behalf had courage. The judge found that the defendants were violent and threatening, and the threats continued at court.
The case took a great deal of organisation. However this was nothing compared to the organisation that the tenants undertook between themselves. Most were parents. Different drop-off and pick-up times had to be carefully worked out between the witnesses, who left court at co-ordinated times to cover each other.
When Halifax County Court closes down this will be impossible. I suspect that many of those who were able to attend locally in Halifax would not be able to attend Huddersfield, or Bradford. In any event “technical” travel times are worthless given the problems of traffic, not to mention the delay and expense of parking.
What is true in Halifax is, I am sure, equally true in Bolton, in Bridgend and Buxton.
Absence from the discussion (and sometimes major miscalculations) in relation to travel time is the question of economics.
- The percentage of the population without a car is not adequately considered. Nor is the additional cost of attendance.
- The economics of bringing a claim for a small (and even large) business when employees will have to travel and be absent for longer periods.(I have seen cases where small shopkeepers have had to close down their shop for the day. Probably negating the sums they recovered at the hearing).
- In some (probably most) parts of the country travel is expensive.
JUSTICE IS NOT FOR THE LIKES OF US AND IT IS SO VERY FAR AWAY
The gradual moving of court centres out of large population centres promotes the idea that justice is both aloof and distant. They will certainly be distant.
AND THE GREAT WHITE HEAT OF TECHNOLOGY WILL SAVE US ALL…
The response to the consultation pins a lot (indeed most) of its hope upon technology. Technology is, indeed, part of the answer. However the part that virtually every “discussion paper” emanating from the government misses out is the fact that law is ultimately a people business. If disputes cannot be settled then things need to be decided. They need to be decided by a judge who hears the evidence and makes decisions based on that evidence and the relevant law.
It is this failure to appreciate:-
- The economics and reality of travel.
- The fact that, ultimately, decisions have to be made in hearings.
- Technology is not a panacea.
That undermines most of the decisions made in relation to Court closure. It also undermines many of the proposals to create an “online” court.
ARTICLES AND POSTS
- The closure of Bolton’s Family Courts will be detrimental to Bolton residents.
- The Law Society Gazette MOJ confirms that 86 out of 91 threatened courts will close.
- The BBC – Closures of courts and tribunals in England and Wales announced.
- Family Law – MOJ confirms closure of 86 courts.
- The Written Ministerial Statement is here
- Yorkshire Post on Yorkshire court closures confirmed.
- Wales online Government announces closure of 10 courts in Wales
- Halifax Courier Shock and anger over court closures in Calderdale
- The Law Society Court closures will deepen inequalities in the justice system
- PCS More court closures further undermines our justice system
- The Wave Court Closures Row
- Resolution Resolution condemns government court closure plan
- Local Government Lawyer Ministry of Justice to press ahead with closure of 86 courts and tribunals
- The Telegraph Criminal trials to be heard in universities after closure of one in five courts