The government’s plans to shut down 91 courts and tribunals could mean that defence firms fail meet the requirements of their new contracts ‘through no fault of their own’, the Law Society has argued in its response to a Ministry of Justice (MoJ) consultation. Firms have bid for contracts ‘based on the geography of the existing courts’, Chancery Lane argues, and ‘some fear they will be financially unable to fulfil their contract if courts close in their region’. ‘In these cases some solicitors told us they will withdraw their tenders altogether’, it added.
‘A majority of these proposed court closures will make it more difficult for a significant number people to get to court, and the closures will more adversely affect people living in rural areas, those with disabilities and lower income families,’ commented Law Society president Jonathan Smithers. ‘Combined with the further planned increases in court fees and reductions in eligibility for legal aid, many of the proposed closures will serve to deepen the inequalities in the justice system between those who can and cannot afford to pay.’
Chancery Lane argues that the government’s plans do not factor in ‘circuitous and expensive’ public transport – for example, the journey from Aylesbury, under threat of closure, to its nearest neighbor Milton Keynes ‘costs £71.30, takes over 2.5 hours each way and involves two changes’.
‘Solicitors told us that many of the travel times stated in the MoJ proposals are misleading and do not take sufficient account of local geography or transport infrastructure, particularly in rural areas where services may run infrequently and may not be direct,’ the Law Society argued.
Chancery Lane also complained about ‘the lack of transparency and reported errors’ in the MoJ’s impact assessment. ‘Neither the consultation paper nor the impact assessment sets out the criteria used to identify the courts and tribunals proposed for closure or consolidation,’ it said. ‘The algorithm used to calculate travel times is no longer available to the public, having been taken offline in 2014. The MoJ declined a Law Society request for further information.
‘Solicitors pointed out a worrying number of factual errors in the consultation document. For instance, that there are miscalculations on the current usage of some courts and an over-estimation of the capacity of alternative courts to take an additional workload. One solicitor told us of Burton Magistrates Court that is proposed for closure: “They have worked out the usage figures based on four court rooms when there are only three. The fourth court is little more than a cupboard and is not secure.”’
You can read the full consultation response here
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