One in five of courts and tribunals across England and Wales are set to close under a Ministry of Justice (MoJ) cost cutting plan to tackle the issue of 'underused' court buildings.
A three month review of the proposal has been launched, which will examine whether 91 of 460 court and tribunal buildings are to close and a further 31 incorporated elsewhere.
In 2014, “over a third of all courts and tribunals were empty for more than fifty per cent of their available hearing time”, according to Courts Minister Shailesh Vara, who claims that, "The buildings being consulted on represent 16 per cent of hearing rooms ... which are, on average, used for only a third of their available time - equivalent to fewer than two out of five days in a week."
Public buildings could be used...
Mr Vara says that “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.” Vara also suggests that public buildings, such as town halls, could be used in rural locations for hearings.
The Justice Under Secretary states that even after the changes, “more than 95 per cent of citizens would still be able to reach their required court within an hour by car.”
The consultation, which will run for 12 weeks until 8 October is to look at 57 magistrates' courts, 19 county courts, two crown courts, four tribunal hearing centres and nine combined courts.
Among the buildings under consideration are Runcorn (Halton) Magistrates' Court, Accrington County Court and Accrington Magistrates' Court in the North West, Corby and Stafford Magistrates' Courts in the Midlands, Bow County Court and Feltham Magistrates' Court in London.