The surprise announcement of plans for yet more court closures has prompted concerns from the Bar over how much harder it may become for vulnerable people to access their local court, and whether the drive to cut costs will impact the quality of our system of justice.
Chair of the Bar, Andrew Walker QC, has responded to the Government consultation, Fit for the future: transforming the Court and Tribunal Estate, published yesterday.
He said: "This unexpected plan to shut down another eight courts across England, including two in London, is the second raft of court closures initiated by the Government in as many years.
"The plans inevitably will give rise to concerns about how much harder it may become, particularly for vulnerable people, to access their local court.
"In 2016, HMCTS confirmed that it would close 86 of the 460 courts and tribunals in England and Wales, eight of which were in London. The current proposals are to close two more London courts, Wandsworth County Court and Blackfriars Crown Court, as well as Magistrates' Courts in Cambridge, Northallerton, Banbury, Maidenhead, Chorley and Fleetwood.
"We will be looking very closely at the justification put forward for yet further closures, as well as at the wider proposals for the future. Concerns have been expressed across the country about the effect of closures that have already taken place, and in light of the scale and pace of change, there are real concerns about the cumulative impact. If we are to ensure that we maintain effective access to local courts, then these further proposals must not be assessed in isolation.
"It is also essential that there is a clear plan as to how other courts will cover current caseloads, and that added strain on those remaining does not undermine the quality of justice and its accessibility to citizens, or increase disruption, unfairness and inefficiency through late changes of venue, delays, and more postponed hearings.
"A fair, efficient and accessible justice system is one of the fundamental pre-requisites of an effective democratic society. Our system of justice is renowned, and cost cutting must not be allowed to cause or justify undermining its quality. The Bar Council will be scrutinising these proposals in close detail."
Notes to Editors
Further information is available from the Bar Council Press Office on 020 7222 2525 and Press@BarCouncil.org.uk.
The Bar Council represents barristers in England and Wales. It promotes:
The Bar's high quality specialist advocacy and advisory services
Fair access to justice for all
The highest standards of ethics, equality and diversity across the profession, and
The development of business opportunities for barristers at home and abroad.
The General Council of the Bar is the Approved Regulator of the Bar of England and Wales. It discharges its regulatory functions through the independent Bar Standards Board