The Law Society has responded to the Ministry of Justice’s consultation on proposals for the closure of Camberwell Green and Hammersmith Magistrates’ Court. These proposals closely follow confirmation that 86 courts and tribunals across England and Wales, ten of them in London, are to close in the next 18 months. This represents one fifth of the entire courts estate.
In preparing its response, the Society has consulted its members in order to assess the effect of the proposed closures on court users - specifically victims, witnesses and defendants.
The Society has raised issues concerning access to justice, the impact on court users, use of technology and young offenders.
Accessing justice does not simply amount to the distance in which a court user has to travel in order to attend. There must be consideration of the additional cost, vulnerable user groups and the risks associated with relocating work; the proposed closures will diminish the administration of local justice.
We are particularly concerned that proposals do not adequately address the statutory and procedural arrangements for those offenders under the age of 18.
Combined with increases in court fees and reductions in eligibility for legal aid, court closures make it more difficult for a significant number of people to get to court, disproportionately affecting people with disabilities and lower income families, so deepening inequalities in the justice system.
The Society supports the government's proposed modernisation of the courts, by taking advantage of the opportunities that technology can provide in delivering a just, proportionate, accessible system which delivers value for money. However, this is the beginning of a six year programme, new technology is untested and the modernisation process will take time. It cannot fill the immediate gap created by each court closure.